Nine hundred state employees have accepted an offer to retire early or voluntarily leave their jobs, helping to save the state $82 million over the next two years and avoiding widespread layoffs, officials said Wednesday.
Over half of those participating in the buyout program are from human services, where 495 employees accepted the offer. In public safety, 186 employees participated, officials said.
“This is the highest participation in a voluntary separation program in recent history,” Kristen Lepore, secretary of administration and finance, said in a statement. “Based on the results, the Executive Branch will not seek across-the-board layoffs, but agencies will work to identify potential operational improvements.”
Those measures include incentive programs to bring about savings and reducing by attrition and other adjustments, Lepore said.
The buyout program, launched in October to address the state’s budget gap, will result in $12 million in payroll savings for the current fiscal year, and $70 million in fiscal 2018, which starts July 1, Lepore said.
The buyout was available to executive branch employees, except for workers in the state Department of Children and Families.
Of the 900 employees who took the offer, 729 were retirement-eligible and 171 were not, officials said. Retirement-eligible workers received a one-time incentive payment of $15,000. The remaining workers received $5,000.
Pension benefits for the retirement-eligible workers will not be affected, a spokesman for Lepore said.
The Baker administration launched the buyout program in October to help close a projected $294 million budget gap. Officials attributed the shortfall to weaker-than-expected sales tax revenue and the Legislature failing to fully fund several programs.
Jim Durkin, legislative director for the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 93, which represents about 35,000 public sector workers in Massachusetts, reacted tepidly to Wednesday’s announcement.
“Obviously this is a far more palatable alternative than massive layoffs, but it is not a cause for celebration by any means, particularly for people who rely on . . . human services programs,” Durkin said.
He said human service agencies are “stretched pretty thin right now” and that “once these positions are gone, they’re gone for good.”
About 42,000 executive branch employees were eligible for the buyout.
Outside of health and human services and public safety, the breakdown of employees who took the buyout includes 65 in the Transportation Department; 52 in Administration and Finance; 43 in Energy and Environmental Affairs; 30 in Labor and Workforce Development; 16 in Housing and Economic Development; and 13 in the Executive Office of Education. The workers’ specific job titles were not available.
Terry MacCormack, a spokesman for the state Republican Party, welcomed the news, writing in an e-mail that the “efforts to save taxpayer dollars and streamline state government is exactly the kind of smart, reform-oriented leadership that the people of Massachusetts have come to expect and appreciate from their Governor.”
But Noah Berger, president of the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, a left-leaning think tank, said in a statement that officials must look beyond short-term savings from the buyout.
He said that “we don’t want understaffing to lead to problems like long lines at the registry of motor vehicles or shorter hours at state parks or reduced ability to protect our public health or our environment.”
Joshua Miller of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.