Government & Politics

Talk of furloughs for state workers grows

TOPEKA — The chairmen of the Kansas Legislature's budget committee think furloughs of government employees are growing more likely because of the state's persistent budget problems.

Aides to Gov. Mark Parkinson declined Thursday to discuss what steps he is considering to keep the current state budget balanced, although they did not rule out unpaid leave for state workers. Parkinson expects to announce his decisions by the end of November.

Budget Director Duane Goossen said Parkinson anticipates making nearly $260 million in cuts or other adjustments to prevent a deficit for the year ending June 30. The Democratic governor has promised the budget will be back in balance when the Republican-controlled Legislature reconvenes in January.

"I'm not going to comment on what's in the mix," Goossen said. "We're looking at a whole range of options."

Some GOP legislators, including House Appropriations Committee Chairman Kevin Yoder, suggest furloughs could prevent other cuts that would force layoffs. Other Republicans have resisted the idea, but Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jay Emler said fresh cuts could force the issue.

"It's a strong possibility at this point," said Emler, R-Lindsborg. "If there isn't any money, there isn't any money."

Kansas has had four rounds of cuts and budget adjustments this year to avoid running a deficit, and Parkinson imposed the most recent changes himself in July. Last week, officials issued a new forecast saying the state won't collect the $5.6 billion in general tax revenue it needs to sustain its current budget.

"You cannot reduce state spending without reducing labor costs," said Yoder, R-Overland Park.

When GOP legislators proposed mandating furloughs earlier this year, Parkinson and fellow Democrats opposed the idea. Administration officials said decisions about reducing personnel costs should be left to agency heads.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said legislators are likely to discuss furloughs again next year, but expressed doubt that Parkinson would take that route.

Asked about furloughs, Parkinson spokesman Seth Bundy noted that the governor said last week that he is considering "all the options available" for a "responsible" budget plan. Bundy declined to discuss details.

The state has about 38,500 employees, including about 15,000 on university campuses. About 21,000 workers are covered by Kansas' civil service system.

Department of Administration spokesman Gavin Young said there are questions under federal law about how much unpaid leave the state can force on non-civil-service employees. But Yoder said Parkinson could consider closing state offices early on Fridays.

The most serious discussion of furloughs has come in Kansas' court system. Salaries and employee benefits consume 98 percent of its $97 million appropriation of state tax dollars.

Chief Justice Robert Davis said last week that the Kansas Supreme Court had drafted a plan to require court employees to take six weeks' worth of unpaid leave, starting in January. Parkinson and legislators have pledged that the courts will get enough funds to prevent furloughs.

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