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SPRINGFIELD - An employee buyout program designed to save $45 million last year appears to have yielded just $4.5 million in savings, a new report shows.

The General Assembly's bipartisan Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability found the Blagojevich administration's money-saving plan was plagued by low participation rates.

Instead of 3,000 state workers signing up to receive a buyout in 2004, just 542 took advantage of the first phase of the program.

"There is no question they got nowhere close to the participation they had predicted," said Dan Long, director of the fiscal forecasting agency.

Blagojevich unveiled the program in 2004 as a way to pare up to 3,000 non-frontline state workers from the payroll without having to lay off employees.

Under the first phase, employees were offered double their accumulated pension contributions plus 6 percent interest.

When that proposal proved unpopular, a second, more lucrative offer was put in place, resulting in another 700 employees leaving the state payroll.

While the study only reviewed results from the first phase, it appears the overall savings target was not met.

In addition to the $4.5 million saved during the fiscal year, the report, which was released Thursday, shows the state also reduced its pension obligations by $4.8 million.

It is not the first time budget expectations have fallen short during Blagojevich's tenure.

Plans to raise cash by selling off the state's main office building in Chicago were blocked, as was a proposal to close older state prisons in Vandalia and Pontiac.

Lena Parsons, a spokeswoman for the governor's budget office, said administration officials have not done their own tally of how much the buyout program saved.

"Unfortunately it would take several days, if not a couple of weeks, to determine it because there are a lot of people on vacation right now," said Parsons. "We can't say right now how much this mechanism saved."

But, she said even a reduced amount of savings shouldn't be discounted.

"Regardless of whether a thousand people take advantage of it or one hundred take advantage of it, the state has fewer employees on the payroll. We're savings taxpayers money," said Parsons.

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