Despite a state budget deficit that is expected to reach $3.8 billion in 2012, state Senate Democrats (SDO) have added people to their staff since May. However, the SDO is following the governor’s lead by holding back any pay raises for this fiscal year. The legislative caucuses are beyond the reach of any hiring or wage freeze that may be decreed by the governor. They operate on a separate budget that legislative leaders control.

Jim Tracy, personnel administrator for the Office of Legislative Management, confirms that the Senate Democrats hired Kathleen Shea in May and David Baird last month. Shea was hired to fill an open position as the clerk of the Government Administration and Elections committee.

The more curious hire is that of Baird who takes a newly created position as outreach director in the office of constituent services. The Shad knows first-hand (as a former communications director for SDO) that “constituent services” is responsible for keeping voters happy with their senator and in a broader, practical sense, getting them re-elected—but don’t expect to find that on any job description. For instance, the office, headed in the SDO by Leslie O’Brien, puts together direct mail pieces paid for by the taxpayers and sent to voters in every state senate district that a Democrat represents, basically putting the best face on caucus members. Perhaps O’Brien, who once dressed down a sitting senator outside the senate chambers, could use the help.

With an election in November, it makes sense to beef-up the office that plays a large role in getting caucus members re-elected. But it is also politically risky. It doesn’t look good when Senate Dems are creating this type of position (or any position at all) with such a massive budget deficit. It’s important to note that the SDO is still operating within its budget, even with the new hires. Whether to spend their allotted money or turn it back to the general fund is the leaders’ decision. It should also be noted that the SDO, at least in my experience, has been meticulous in technically separating campaign work from caucus work.

The Shad yesterday asked Tracy in an emailed request if any of the other three caucuses have hired new staff. No response yet. But don’t expect the others to complain. Each caucus would rather not have its hiring practices under a microscope.

And although no official announcement has been made, it’s expected that the four legislative caucuses will forgo any pay raises this fiscal year. Earlier this week, Gov. Rell announced that staffers in the executive branch of government would not get raises. The legislative caucuses historically follow suit. This year won’t be any different.

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