Franklin County

State to furlough its workers

Gov. Steve Beshear's administration will furlough most state workers for six days in the fiscal year that began July 1 to save about $24 million under a plan presented to the Kentucky Personnel Board on Friday.

Without the furloughs, the state would have to lay off 413 state workers to make the necessary budget cuts, according to Personnel Secretary Nikki Jackson. However, the Beshear administration will likely announce layoffs of some non-merit workers, or political appointees, in coming weeks, state officials said.

All executive branch employees will take the loss in pay, including political appointees and Beshear, Jackson said. The other constitutional offices in the executive branch, such as the attorney general, the secretary of state and the state treasurer, also are covered under the furlough plan, officials said.

Employees of the judicial and legislative branches of government, public school districts, and public universities and colleges are not affected by the furlough plan, state officials said.

"The administration does not take this step lightly, and it comes only in the face of eight budget-cutting exercises in the last two-and-a-half years, including the recent $1.5 billion budget deficit," Jackson wrote in a letter sent to state workers.

The Personnel Board accepted the furlough plan Friday and urged the governor to make the public aware of the impending government closures.

Under Beshear's plan, state government would close for three days adjacent to holiday weekends: Friday, Sept. 3, 2010 (Labor Day weekend); Friday, Nov. 12, 2010 (Veterans Day weekend); and Friday, May 27, 2011 (Memorial Day weekend).

State agencies would arrange for their workers to take three additional furlough days in the months of October, March and June, but on staggered schedules so the agencies remain open.

John Hicks, deputy state budget director, said the recently enacted state budget limits the number of furlough days to no more than 24 hours, or three working days, every six months. That means officials had to stagger the furlough days over time and require employees to take furloughs during certain months.

"It's in the interest of trying to spread it out across the fiscal year," Hicks said.

Prisons, hospitals, state police and other agencies that must operate around the clock will be given some flexibility on how to implement the furloughs, the governor's office said in a statement.

Jennifer Brislin, a spokeswoman for the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, confirmed that Kentucky State Police and the Department of Corrections' prison staff are included in the furlough plan. The cabinet is still trying to determine how it will implement those furloughs while keeping police on the roads and prisons running, Brislin said.

The furloughs are just one of several cost-cutting measures that the Beshear administration has announced in recent weeks as state revenues continue to dwindle. As part of the two-year budget passed in May, the Beshear administration must cut $131 million in addition to 3.5 percent spending cuts to most state agencies this year.

State Budget Director Mary Lassiter has asked agencies to prepare plans for an additional 1.5 percent cut as a way to come up with some of the $131 million.

State health officials also announced tweaks last week to Medicaid, the state and federal program for the poor and disabled. Those changes are projected to save the underfunded program $26 million in state funds.

The Kentucky Association of State Employees, which represents state workers, said it reluctantly understood the need for Beshear to order furloughs.

"A lot of state employees are not too happy about it. I've been getting e-mails and calls all morning," said KASE president Lee Jackson. "But given the fiscal reality we're facing at this point in time, furloughs frankly are more palatable to us than layoffs."

Jackson noted that lawmakers mandated a reduction in the number of political employees as part of the $131 million in savings Beshear must find.

Kerri Richardson, a spokeswoman for Beshear, said the administration is still determining how to do that, but said it is likely that there will be layoffs of non-merit employees.

Democratic Sen. Julian Carroll, whose Senate district covers Frankfort, said state employees had complained about the loss of pay before the plan was announced Friday.

But Carroll said the state is in a fiscal bind. Revenues continue to plummet and there is no political will to raise taxes.

"I sympathize with them," Carroll said. "They haven't received raises in several years. Their health insurance has gone up ... and now there are furloughs."

Still, Carroll said furloughs are preferred to widespread layoffs. The judicial branch has already laid off dozens of employees and an undetermined number of Kentucky school teachers have been laid off over the past 18 months.

Several other cash-strapped states already have furloughed their workers or proposed furloughs, including California, which has ordered workers to take 46 unpaid days off since February 2009, Beshear's office said.

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