Franklin County

Judge to rule Thursday on state furlough lawsuit

FRANKFORT — A judge said he will rule Thursday on whether state employees need to report for work Friday.

Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd heard more arguments Wednesday from state workers suing to block Gov. Steve Beshear's planned six-day unpaid furlough of most executive branch employees during fiscal year 2011. The first furlough day would be Friday.

Beshear has said that furloughs are needed to cut about $24 million from the state's $131 million budget deficit and that without furloughs, he would have to fire more than 400 employees. State workers, represented by a union, argue that many state agencies are dangerously understaffed, which furloughs would aggravate. Also, they say, the loss of pay would hurt them financially.

Shepherd said Wednesday that he's sympathetic to the workers' plight. Losing six days of pay would hurt a corrections officer trying to support a family on $24,000 a year far more than it would hurt a political appointee who makes $100,000 a year on top of a state pension, which raises fairness concerns, the judge said.

However, to grant an injunction blocking the furloughs, Shepherd said he would have to find that Beshear broke the law. The General Assembly this year gave Beshear permission to do what he did, Shepherd said.

"The budget bill gives the governor extremely broad authority to enact a furlough plan," Shepherd said.

Last week, the governor amended his furlough plan to exempt employees who provide direct patient care at state mental-health facilities; corrections officers and medical personnel at state prisons; and Kentucky State Police officers and communications personnel.

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