Colorado lawmaker calls for furloughs
Rocky Mountain News
Denver, CO Colorado
DENVER, Colorado “-A state lawmaker wants to furlough state employees 1-2 days a month and use the savings to cushion Colorado’s universities from budget cuts.
Rep. Steve King’s proposal is modeled after the state of Maryland, which is in the midst of a two-year furlough schedule for workers.
King’s sister works for the Maryland Department of Human Services.
“We have got to try to avoid layoffs and do something for higher education,” the Grand Junction Republican said. “This is a start.”
King’s bill, scheduled to be heard Feb. 19, comes at the same time the Joint Budget Committee has nixed the idea of furloughing workers for the remainder of this fiscal year, which ends June 30. The committee hasn’t decided yet whether to institute furloughs for next year.
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The JBC chairwoman, Sen. Moe Keller, D-Wheat Ridge, said she believes furloughs create paperwork nightmares that outweigh the savings.
“It is just easier to do what we are recommending, which is the salary freeze across the board and no performance pay,” she said.
Another JBC member, Rep. Don Marostica, R-Loveland, concurred. He said part of the problem is departments have various computer programs that don’t interface with each other. Redoing programs to recalculate payroll for furlough days would be too costly for this fiscal year, he said.
King said if a Democratic governor in Maryland can mandate furloughs through an executive order and make it work, the Democratic governor and legislature in Colorado should be able to do the same.
Maryland was the first state to announce furloughs, in 2008. California followed last week, ordering state workers to take off two unpaid days a month at least through June 30.
King’s bill would furlough state workers between one to two days a month for two years, if needed, based on their annual base salary. Employees making more than $60,000 would be furloughed for two days a month.
HB 1221 exempts judicial employees because that is another branch of government. It also provides for other exemptions, including the Colorado State Patrol, corrections officers and Department of Human Service workers providing “hands on” care.
If the bill passes, it would go into effect as soon as the governor signs it into law.
Keller said so many employees would be exempt from furloughs ” whether under King’s bill or if the state proposed doing it ” that the savings would only be around $2.5 million a day.
“We’re looking at a billion-dollar shortfall,” she said.
The recession has hit state governments hard, says Arturo Perez, an analyst with the National Conference of State Legislatures.
“Across the country we are starting to see a lot of payroll-related actions to try to address the growing revenue shortfall,” he said.
The discussions center on furloughs, salary freezes and salary reductions.
Marostica said lawmakers will know more in late March when they get the latest revenue forecast. He expects even more grim news because of more stock market losses and lost jobs.