Richie Farmer reverses course, will participate in state furlough

Furlough reversal follows criticism

jcheves@herald-leader.comApril 27, 2011 

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Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer, right, and Senate President David Williams made a campaign stop in Ashland earlier this month. Farmer is running for lieutenant governor.

JOHN FLAVELL

On second thought, Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer has decided to participate in the state furlough.

Farmer, a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, late Tuesday issued an apology and reversed his previous stand, saying he will participate in the state government furloughs by donating six days of his $110,346 annual salary to charities.

"I am sorry that I did not come to this conclusion sooner," Farmer said. "It was never my intention to make it seem that I was insensitive to the plight of state employees."

On April 9, the Herald-Leader reported that Farmer was the state's only constitutional officer to skip the furloughs.

Unlike most state workers, who must take six furlough days this fiscal year, constitutional officers are exempt because the law prohibits them from altering their own salaries. But Gov. Steve Beshear and the others, citing a need for shared sacrifice, get around that by writing checks to the state treasury or to charities to forfeit their pay on furlough days.

Originally, Farmer said he disagreed with the furloughs, which Beshear ordered last year to save an estimated $24 million, and chose not to participate. Following two weeks of campaign trail controversy, he changed his mind.

"After reconsidering, I decided there was a better way to serve the greater good while letting state employees know that it doesn't have to be this way, and that I sympathize with them and will share in their sacrifice," Farmer said in his statement.

Farmer said on Tuesday he gave $1,000 to Capital City Christian Church in Frankfort and $1,071 to the Kentucky National Guard Memorial Fund, which is raising money to build a memorial to fallen soldiers.

Those sums represent five of his six furlough days, Farmer said. He will decide where to give money for his sixth furlough day when it happens in May, he said.

Farmer is the running mate of state Senate President David Williams. The Republican gubernatorial primary is May 17.

The Kentucky Association of State Employees criticized Farmer earlier this month for his original furlough decision. The group had kinder words for him Tuesday. "Better late than never. We're glad to hear that Commissioner Farmer has seen the light on the sacrifices that our state's front-line workers are making, including the workers who serve directly under him at the Agriculture Department," said KASE President David Smith.

The Kentucky Democratic Party used Farmer's apology as a chance to renew its demand that he reimburse the state for $1,576 he spent for four nights in a suite at the Hilton Lexington/Downtown during last month's Sweet Sixteen basketball tournament. Farmer, who promoted the state's Kentucky Proud agriculture program during the tournament, lives 28 miles from Rupp Arena in Frankfort.

"The Kentucky Democratic Party is pleased that Commissioner Farmer has found a way to overcome his philosophical objections long enough to become the last constitutional officer to return furlough pay," party spokesman Matt Erwin said. "We hope his newfound fiscal restraint will apply to his luxury hotel stays as well."

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