April 27, 2010

Governor set to sign furlough bill today; administration confused

Gov. Chris Gregoire this afternoon (April 27) is set to sign the furlough bill (ESSB 6503) into law. We won’t be there. Expect bargaining on this issue.

The bill directs agencies to cut a total of $45 million in compensation costs, with $10 million coming from Washington Management Service and management-type jobs. Agencies can draw up their own plans using a number of options. If they don’t, the bill mandates 10 furlough/temporary layoff days between July 12 and June 30, 2011. Most state employees are exempt because they are in a public safety, health-related or other such position. Those making $30,000 or less can use leave time if they’re in a furlough-eligible class. In the end, only about 20 percent of state employees may even be eligible for furloughs.

And now we learn that where agencies do come up with an alternate plan to avoid mandatory furloughs, the governor wants all such agencies to close up the shop on the same days—to avoid public confusion.

But clearly, the administration itself is confused.

This from today’s The Olympian:
“But (Budget Director Marty) Brown also acknowledged Monday that agencies and the administration have more questions than answers about how to make the furloughs work. ‘It’s lots more complicated than it would appear,’ Brown said….”
The governor’s team is realizing the furlough bill may end up being a costly way for the administration and legislators to say, “Let’s screw state employees even more.”

Here’s an excerpt from the rest of today’s story in The Olympian:
“Democratic Rep. Brendan Williams of Olympia said he thinks there is a risk the bill won’t save what it is designed to.

“’You look at the example of Oregon and they found this thing has created more problems and costs than were anticipated,’ Williams said Monday. ‘In some cases people have had to work overtime and bill overtime to make up for lost hours. It becomes an administrative nightmare because agencies are designed to be functional.’

“Williams said agencies are designed to provide services but the furloughs raise a question whether the state will stop doing laundry at veterans’ homes or perhaps will skip other work such as processing unemployment claims at the Employment Security Department.

“The Governor’s Office is aware of Oregon’s experience and concerned by it, Brown said. But he said the savings must be achieved, because Washington lawmakers reduced allocations to agencies.

“’We are trying to get over the next couple weeks to see what it would take to make it work,’ Brown said. ‘If we shut this down, what are the ramifications? Does it mean the next day people have to work 10 hours? … We’re trying to be as thoughtful as we can … but it’s bumpy.’

“For instance, exempted activities are spelled out in the bill. But Brown said an exemption that protects academic or classroom activities in a community college leaves unclear how much support service must be provided to allow classes to go on.”

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