Half true: Gov. Chris Gregoire said the state will lay off about 10,000 workers in state government and education between 2009 and the end of the next budget in 2013.

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The claim: Gov. Chris Gregoire recently told reporters that between 2009 and the end of the next budget in 2013 “we will lay off about 10,000 people overall in state employment and teachers.” She also has said about 8,200 state workers already have lost their jobs and an additional 1,800 are expected to over the next two years.

What we found: Half true

The job reductions are part of the efforts to balance a state budget that’s billions of dollars out of whack.

The governor made her comments about the employment numbers this month at an Associated Press legislative forum, where she also defended state workers and said they have suffered enough during the economic downturn through layoffs and cuts to pay and benefits.

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But there are problems with the employment projections. It’s not clear if the state has lost the 8,200 positions mentioned by the governor, or if that figure will reach 10,000 by 2013.

And most of the reduction in the state’s work force has come through attrition, not layoffs as the governor suggested. At least that’s the case for state agencies and K-12 schools, according to the state Department of Personnel and the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s Office. There’s no central source of information for higher-education employment. Based on that, and giving the governor the benefit of the doubt on job losses, we conclude her claim is half true.

An example of how squishy state job-loss statistics can be:

Estimates by the governor’s budget office indicate the two-year college system has lost more than 1,000 full-time-equivalent (FTE) positions since 2009. However, the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges says the colleges lost about 250 full-time jobs during that period and expect to lose fewer than 200 FTEs in the coming fiscal year.

That’s a big gap between what the budget office says and what the colleges estimate.

Marty Brown, the governor’s budget director, acknowledged the job-loss estimates are “imprecise.”

Higher education’s numbers could be different from those of the governor’s office, for instance, because colleges and universities may be able to retain workers due to increased revenue from enrollment, or use of federal grants.

Just determining overall state employment can be difficult because the number of workers fluctuates by thousands of positions during the year. The most accurate method is to wait until the fiscal year ends and then do an average of the preceding months. The fiscal year runs through June.

“I do know we will have fewer employees at the end of the next biennium,” Brown said.

While most job losses likely will be through attrition, “If they don’t get replaced, we still save money … and it makes it harder for the folks left doing the jobs,” Brown said.

The state in 2009 had about 216,000 FTEs in K-12 schools, higher education and state agencies. (That’s 103,800 in K-12, 49,000 for higher ed and 63,600 in state agencies.) If Gregoire’s projections prove true, a cut of 10,000 positions would represent about a 4.6 percent reduction in the government work force.

Projections show the bulk of cuts would come from education. Colleges and universities would lose nearly 7 percent of their work force, K-12 about 5 percent and general government agencies about 3 percent on average.

The state faces a shortfall approaching $5 billion in the next two-year budget. Lawmakers are looking at cuts to K-12 programs, higher education and state services to close the gap.

Lawmakers have said job cuts and reductions in state worker pay and benefits need to be part of the solution.

In addition to state work-force reductions, Gregoire has proposed limiting the state’s share of employee health-care premiums to 85 percent, down from 88 percent. She also has proposed cutting state worker pay by 3 percent through unpaid time off, and eliminating certain pension benefits.

Combined with the job cuts, Gregoire said that’s as far as she’s willing to go.

“I don’t know how we expect them to work their hearts out if I break their back,” Gregoire said last month when she released her budget. “There comes a point when they are so demoralized that they can’t do the job.”

Andrew Garber: 360-236-8266 or agarber@seattletimes.com

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