Franklin County

Judge hears arguments against state furlough plan

FRANKFORT — After a lengthy court hearing Monday in which six state workers testified about how the public would suffer under a plan to furlough state workers, a judge delayed ruling on a motion to block the unpaid leave.

Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd said he wanted more information on the state's financial condition to see whether the state could get by without the six days of furloughs that Gov. Steve Beshear announced in July as a cost-saving measure.

John Frith Stewart, a Crestwood attorney representing the six state workers and their labor union, said in an amended complaint filed Monday that millions of dollars in state projects could be suspended and additional federal dollars to the state could be used to prevent the furloughs.

Shepherd told Dan Egbers, an attorney for the state Finance and Administration Cabinet, that the state could have until next Monday to provide the court with more information about the state's finances.

When Beshear presented the furlough plan to the state Personnel Board in July, he said it would save about $24 million. As part of the two-year budget passed in May, Beshear must cut $131 million this year, in addition to 3.5 percent spending cuts already mandated for most state agencies.

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

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

Egbers told the court that state Personnel Secretary Nikki Jackson will be reviewing plans submitted by state agencies for possible exemptions to the furlough. Jackson initially had said no exemptions would be made.

Since the Beshear administration announced the furloughs, some state workers — particularly those working at around-the-clock operations, such as prisons, state police and mental health facilities — have said furloughs would jeopardize the safety of workers and the general public.

The furloughs also could affect programming on the Kentucky Educational Television network, spokesman Tim Bischoff said Monday in an e-mail.

He said KET is requesting "flexibility" from the Personnel Cabinet in the implementation of the furloughs.

Without the flexibility, he said, the popular public-affairs show Comment on Kentucky, which usually is aired live on Friday nights, might have to be taped ahead of time when the show falls on Fridays that are scheduled for statewide furloughs. The show already is taped in advance on state holidays that fall on Fridays.

The six state workers testifying Monday — members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees District Council 62 — focused on the furloughs' impact on safety.

Rebecca Harbin, a social service worker in Jefferson County, said she is on call seven days a week.

"If I'm off, something will suffer," she said. "It could mean life and death to a child."

Several also said the state wouldn't save money by furloughing police and workers at always-open facilities because the state would have to pay overtime to other workers to replace those on furloughs.

The judge said there are "no easy answers," noting that if the state does not proceed with furloughs, some state workers might have to be laid off.

The Beshear administration has said 413 workers could lose their jobs if there are no furloughs.

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