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Governor Baker puts freeze on state hiring

Orders performance evaluations of agencies

Governor Charlie Baker.
Governor Charlie Baker.Brian Snyder/REUTERS

In his first move to deal with a huge state budget gap, Governor Charlie Baker Friday froze state hiring and ordered his Cabinet secretaries to conduct detailed performance evaluations of all their agencies.

Baker’s action, coming just over 24 hours after he was sworn in and vowed not to raise taxes, reflects his determination that the state’s fiscal problems be addressed by making the government more efficient and eliminating waste, he said.

“Our current deficit proves that Massachusetts is facing a spending problem that must be remedied through smarter spending and a streamlined approach for state government,’’ Baker said in a statement announcing the moves.

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The hiring freeze, which will save an estimated $6.5 million for the rest of the fiscal year that ends June 30, requires all state agencies to withdraw job postings for vacant positions and bans the hiring of new contract workers.

Outlined in a detailed memo to his Cabinet officers, Baker’s edict, however, provides for hiring certain public safety workers and direct care positions, including those for law enforcement, nurses, and social workers.

The agency reviews will be conducted over the next 100 days and will focus on how to improve performance, the administration said in its announcement.

“These reviews will help establish a baseline for performance,’’ the statement said.

“Agency reviews are aimed to determine best practices currently at work within agencies, implications for other departments, and potential cross-agency recommendations,’’ it added. “Secretaries are also directed to collect revenue and expense data.”

Baker also directed his Cabinet secretaries to review all contract amendments made since last Sept. 1.

The exact size of the budget deficit is not clear.

The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, a watchdog group that monitors fiscal issues, has estimated the state has a $750 million midyear deficit, even after the Patrick administration cut the $36.5 billion budget by $250 million late last year.

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Budget aides to former governor Deval Patrick said their cuts left a $70 million to $80 million hole.

Democrats in the House and Senate have argued that the state’s fiscal problems are driven by lower revenue, rather than excessive spending.

Fiscal analysts have said the state’s precarious financial position results partly from slower-than-expected revenue growth, while fixed costs, particularly in health care, are growing.

Baker, in his inaugural address Thursday, forecast that he would follow through on his promise to balance the budget through management skills acquired during his years as State House budget chief with the Weld and Cellucci administrations in the 1990s.

He spoke of “efficiencies to be gained and structural changes to be made,” but also showed a softer side when he said that while difficult decisions face his administration, “We will do so with great sensitivity and careful judgment.”


Frank Phillips can be reached at phillips@globe.com.