The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the state Department of Retirement Systems are getting a jump on state worker furloughs in Washington, shutting down their offices on Tuesday.
Some state legislative workers also are starting unpaid time off this week. The furloughs – or temporary layoffs – are one controversial budgeting tool that state lawmakers used this year to shave an estimated $38 million from state general-fund payroll costs and $35 million from other funds.
The Washington Federation of State Employees has sued to block the furloughs, and a court hearing is scheduled Friday in Olympia to consider whether an injunction is warranted. But in the meantime, agencies are moving ahead.
Most state agencies participating in the 10 days of furloughs over the next year are shutting down offices starting July 12, but some are cutting staff or making other cuts to avoid the temporary layoffs.
“I wish we didn’t have to do this,” state schools chief Randy Dorn said Tuesday in an announcement of his 415-worker agency’s early shutdown. “We’ve made a lot of cuts during the past two years, but now we need to make more. And given a choice between cutting staff and taking a furlough day, I chose the furlough day.”
The day off is added to the long July 4 holiday weekend at OSPI and at Retirement Systems. But while OSPI might satisfy its share of budget cuts through a single day of closure, Retirement Systems expects to shut down on nine other days through June 2010 – taking the remaining days off in sync with other agencies that are doing the 10-day plan.
Retirement Systems spokeswoman Dawn Gothro said the timing is better for her agency on July 6 than July 12, because it is getting a new deferred-compensation system in place.
In one other variation, the Marine Employees Commission staff is taking its furlough day Wednesday, July 7 – “to accommodate a workweek schedule that is unique to their commission,” said Kris Rietmann, a spokeswoman for the governor’s Office of Financial Management.
In announcing his plan, Dorn said his office already shed $2 million, or 16 percent of its budget, in cuts over the past two years.
OFM has been approving alternatives to the furloughs, which are expected to hit between one-fourth and one-third of all state employees. Those in public safety roles such as State Patrol troopers, emergency dispatchers and hazardous materials teams, corrections staff in prisons, health lab workers and those in revenue-generating jobs such as liquor stores clerks and tax agents are exempted.
Legislative staffers have been taking furloughs for a year, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars. Bernard Dean, deputy clerk of the House, said the House’s 250 permanent workers have piled up more than 10,000 hours of unpaid furloughs alone. Each staffer has taken a mandatory 40 hours a year in the fiscal year that ends today and must take another 40 hours in the fiscal year that begins Thursday.
The Senate’s staffers have taken similar furloughs, and some Legislature-affiliated workers have voluntarily taken more leave, Dean said.
But across the state, different agencies are responding in different ways to the furlough requirements of Senate Bill 6503, which the majority Democrats in the Legislature passed this year to spread the pain of budget cuts across state government.
Gov. Chris Gregoire’s budget office has approved alternative plans for agencies to meet the payroll savings goals under SB 6503 for different agencies. These include the use of layoffs and elimination of vacant positions at the Office of the Secretary of State or the use of early retirement incentives for three longtime employees at the State Parks and Recreation Commission.
Note: Amounts of savings from fund sources are corrected above; amounts were inadvertently reversed in original story.