Monday, February 9, 2009

GOP's King Wants to Require State Employee Furloughs to Avoid Higher Ed Cuts

A west slope GOP lawmaker is proposing that the state try to avoid anticipated cuts in higher education spending by forcing state employees to take unpaid furloughs and using the money saved to fund the colleges.

According to a press release issued today by the House GOP caucus, King's bill would direct $5.6 million per day to the state's university system.

King's proposal has been introduced as HB 1221.

"Many private sector employees are making these same sacrifices in order to get their companies through these troubling times,” sponsoring Rep. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, said. “I am asking our state employees to make similar sacrifices in order to save some of the government services that Colorado families depend on from ending up on the chopping block.”

Democrats, however, may not be receptive to King's idea.

Rep. Jeanne Labuda, D-Denver, says HB 1221 violates the established procedure of having the Joint Budget Committee determine how the state will close its budget shortfall.

"If that bill were to pass both the House and the Senate and be signed by the governor, and I think all three of those are great big 'ifs,' if would require all agencies to cut their budgets before presenting them to the JBC,” Labuda said.

The Denver Democrat, who is a member of the House committee that will hear the bill, also said that she thinks the public might be put at risk if all state employees are forced to take unpaid time off.

"In theory, I don’t know if I could support that because there are many, many state employees who are in positions that are necessary for health and safety," Labuda said. "It doesn’t specify that anybody is exempted and I wouldn’t want to see our hospitals have mandatory furloughs or are public safety folks to have mandatory furloughs. This bill is one size fits all for starters."

The bill would allocate required furlough days on the basis of employee salaries, with higher-paid public employees being required to take more time off than lower-paid employees. HB 1221 says that state employees make $30,000 or less per year would be required to take off one day per month, while those making $30,000-40,000 per year would have to take 1 1/2 days off per month. Employees who are paid more than $40,000 per year would have to stay away from the job two days each month.

The state is facing a budget shortfall of at least $300 million this fiscal year and more than $600 million for fiscal year 2009.

The bill, if enacted into law, would go into effect immediately.