Editorial

Farmer's clueless call on furloughs

Other state officers donating pay

April 12, 2011 

Richie Farmer at the 2010 Keeneland Spring Meet.

Z/KEENELAND

For many state workers, including those who are University of Kentucky alumni and fans, "Unfurloughable" may have replaced "Unforgettable" as the term immediately springing to mind when former Wildcats basketball star Richie Farmer's name comes up.

And with good reason.

While other elected statewide constitutional officers voluntarily chose to share the pain of six days of involuntary furloughs imposed on most executive branch employees this fiscal year, Farmer — the Republican agriculture commissioner who would be lieutenant governor (on a ticket with state Senate President David Williams) — opted against taking one for the team.

Gov. Steve Beshear, Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo, Attorney General Jack Conway, Auditor Crit Luallen and Treasurer Todd Hollenback have returned or will return six days' pay to the state treasury. Former Secretary of State Trey Grayson — like Farmer, a Republican — gave some of his pay for furlough days to the treasury and some to Kentucky Educational Television.

Elaine Walker, appointed as Grayson's replacement after he resigned earlier this year, donated her pay for a March furlough day to a Bowling Green charity.

But Farmer remains on the bench because, as his spokesman told the Herald-Leader's John Cheves, "He doesn't agree with it, the whole furlough concept, philosophically."

Well, isn't that just too lah-di-dah?

We suspect a poll of the employees who work for him at the Department of Agriculture would find a goodly number who philosophically don't agree with furloughs either — at least until they realize the possibility of losing their jobs in the layoffs that could occur in the absence of furloughs, is a whole lot worse.

However, those workers don't have a choice about taking furlough days. Farmer, as an elected constitutional officer, does.

But the choice he made shows a clueless, callous indifference to the plight of all the people who work for him — in much the same way he has demonstrated a clueless indifference to the state's fiscal woes by ordering up a new state vehicle whenever the one he's riding around in loses its new-car smell.

And by taking top aides on a $10,000-plus, eight-day trip to a Caribbean resort for a three-day conference featuring 13 hours of business sessions and one tour.

Given these previous demonstrations of tone deafness, Farmer's attempt at spelling "team" with an "I" in the case of furloughs should surprise no one. But it does raise a question or two.

Three of the furlough days were tied to specific holiday weekends and affected all non-exempt workers. Since none of the furlough exemptions applied to Farmer's department, we assume he was the only employee in the office those days.

After all, a constitutional officer who declined to participate in furloughs wouldn't take those days off — with pay — anyway, would he?

So, what did Farmer do while all alone in his office?

Practice his jumper? Fill out an order for another new state vehicle? Contemplate the joy of another Caribbean sunset?

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