Saying Texas government needs to live within its means, Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday imposed an immediate hiring freeze on state agencies through the end of August.
The freeze bans agencies from posting new jobs or filling ones that are currently vacant, according to a memo from the Republican governor’s office.
“Just as families have to balance needs versus wants, so must we,” Abbott said during his State of the State speech in the Capitol.
Abbott predicted that the action would free up about $200 million, which could presumably be used to meet other priorities he laid out Tuesday.
The freeze does have some exceptions. In a memo sent to state agency heads, Abbott’s budget director Steven Albright said agencies may obtain a waiver from the governor’s office “on a case-by-case basis.” And jobs that have a “direct impact on public safety” are exempt.
Abbott’s office said Tuesday that the Department of Family and Protective Services is also exempt. That will allow reform efforts involving the state’s foster care system and Child Protective Services to continue. As Abbott noted in his speech, more than 100 children died in the Child Protective Services system last year.
“We need more workers, with better training, smarter strategies and real accountability, to safeguard our children,” he said.
Also exempt are agencies that are under the direction of other statewide elected officials, such as the Attorney General’s Office, the Texas Department of Agriculture and the Texas Supreme Court.
Universities are included in the freeze, according to Abbott's office. But an official there did say that positions that are funded by money that didn’t come from state appropriations are exempt. Only about 30 percent of the money going into public four-year universities in Texas is state funding, so it’s likely that some university hiring will be able to continue.
At the University of Texas System, spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo said the freeze will affect all of its 14 universities and medical schools. But she said the impact will vary among campuses.
"Our hope is that the freeze will not mean that faculty and other positions important to serving our students and patients... go unfilled," she said.
It’s unclear how many job openings will be affected, but the number is easily in the hundreds. According to the Texas Workforce Commission's website, there are currently 324 job postings at the Department of State Health Services, 450 at the Department of Aging and Disability Services, 154 at the Department of Transportation and 102 at Texas Parks and Wildlife.
Abbott's announcement generated applause from the lawmakers in the House chamber. But afterward Seth Hutchinson, vice president of the Texas State Employees Union, called it a "disaster." Many state agencies and their workers are already feeling strained, he said. State services will get worse if job vacancies aren't filled.
"A hiring freeze is exactly the wrong thing to do," he said. "It is going to make a bad situation so much worse."
Abbott’s office, however, suggested that it expects state business to continue mostly as usual.
“By being good stewards of public resources, Governor Abbott knows all agencies will be able to implement this action while continuing to provide excellent customer service to the taxpayers of this state,” Albright said in his memo.
Marissa Evans contributed to this report.