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Number of state workers at highest level since 1998

MONTGOMERY (AP) — The number of state employees has grown to its largest level in a decade, with 38,494 people working for state agencies on Sept. 30.

The figure for the end of fiscal 2007 was the highest since the end of fiscal 1998, when then-Gov. Fob James pushed through incentives to encourage state workers to retire early. State employment dropped to 34,836 that year. Prior to that, the numbers routinely topped those of fiscal 2007.

The job totals from the state comptroller's office count everything from small state agencies with a few employees to large operations like transportation, corrections and mental health. The numbers do not include public school or university teachers.

The number of state employees climbed under James' successor, Gov. Don Siegelman, reaching 37,673 in fiscal 2002. Then the numbers fell in fiscal 2003 and 2004 as Gov. Bob Riley addressed stagnate state tax collections.

In the next three years, the state's tax collections rebounded and state employment grew.

The 38,494 state workers reported about two weeks ago exceed the year-end total for fiscal 2004 by 2,050 people, a gain of 5.6 percent in three years.

"You went from a posture of having to make tremendous cuts ... to having enough prosperity to get back to the (employment) levels that were necessary to do full services," state Finance Director Jim Main said.

The biggest growth since September 2004 has occurred in the state Department of Public Health, which has hired 530 nurses, social workers and others mostly to work with Medicaid and Medicare patients, state Health Officer Don Williamson said.

The state Department of Transportation has added 286 workers, and the Department of Human Resources has picked up 232.

Mac McArthur, executive director of the Alabama State Employees Association, said the rise in state workers since September 2004 accompanied rising demands for health care and other state services. "I think the modest gains have very much helped in the staffing, but I think throughout state government you see additional staffing needs," he said.

Compared to other Southeastern states, Alabama placed near the middle in terms of the number of state employees per 1,000 residents, according to a review of U.S. Census Bureau reports of state employees in March 2006 and the bureau's state population estimates for July 2006.

In March 2006, Alabama had 8.14 full-time state government employees per 1,000 residents, more than bigger states Georgia (7.19), Florida (7.18) and Tennessee (6.92) but less than Mississippi (8.37), which had fewer residents.

Among Southeastern states closer to Alabama in population, South Carolina had 9.1 state government workers per 1,000 residents, Louisiana had 9.8 and Kentucky had 10.2.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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