July 12 is shaping up as an unpaid holiday for many workers around the Capitol, part of the state Legislature's effort to save $38 million in general-fund payroll through temporary layoffs.
Several state agencies plan one-day furloughs for portions of their work force. The Washington Federation of State Employees might sue to block the government shutdowns.
“We’re still looking at the entire issue,” Greg Devereux, executive director of the Washington Federation of State Employees, said last week, angry that one-quarter or more of the state government work force will be idled on 10 days over the next year. “We think the whole idea is ridiculous. If there is a way to stop it, we will try to do that.”
Devereux and others at the federation say the lost state payroll hurts the economy and costs the state a chance to qualify for extra federal matching dollars. Devereux also says the state could end up not saving money because of overtime costs at state welfare offices and other agencies that have high caseloads.
State budget director Marty Brown said he thinks the state will be able to manage the furloughs and capture the savings that Democratic lawmakers envisioned with the law. And he doesn’t expect overtime to pile up as it did when Oregon used furloughs last year, including in its prison system.
“The governor’s expectation is that there is no overtime,” said Cory Curtis, spokesman for Gov. Chris Gregoire.
Senate Bill 6503 calls for nine additional furlough dates through June 2011. But there are details to sort out: Unions have demanded to negotiate who is laid off and who isn’t in many agencies, and those talks won’t happen until July 6-7.
Also under SB 6503, workers earning less than $30,000 a year can use their vacation leave to receive pay on designated furlough days. It’s too early to say how many workers will opt for that.
How it all gets put into place also varies across the government. Some agencies are taking fewer than 10 furlough days, and others are using permanent layoffs, early retirements or other payroll cuts to get their share of the furlough savings.
Gregoire initially wanted agencies as much as possible to shut down on the same day – in effect shuttering government agencies in unison to save extra money on electricity and other building-operation costs.
Here’s a sampling of how it is expected to play out at several agencies:
• The Department of General Administration, which is the landlord for state-owned buildings, is shutting down most operations; a few power plant employees still will be on the job at the Capitol Campus.
“The campus will be shut down as much as possible. There won’t be any visitor tours” at the Legislative Building, spokesman Steve Valandra of GA said Friday. “Most of the buildings will be closed.”
• The Office of the Secretary of State, led by Sam Reed, is eliminating 11 staff positions – choosing to lay off workers or leave jobs unfilled rather than shutter agency operations on the designated days. Reed’s offices in the Capitol are going to be open and the agency will operate with full services on furlough days, spokesman David Ammons said. The layoffs, which come on top of 30 job cuts earlier in the year, will save $641,000, Ammons said.
• State auditor Brian Sonntag’s office is avoiding furloughs. Instead, he is saving $2.6 million with voluntary retirements, leave without pay, reduced worker hours and eliminated positions.
• Across the Capitol Campus, the Department of Transportation is requiring furloughs for about 5,000 staff members on just two days – in October and March. That compares with temporarily laying off 900 people on the 10 designated days, spokesman Lloyd Brown said. This lets DOT save its $1.4 million share of payroll outlined in the legislation. Those taking furloughs include Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond.
• At the Department of Social and Health Services, employees who provide direct services to state clients will stay on the job. They include Child Protective Services and Adult Protective Services workers and those at state hospitals, the Rainier School for the disabled, juvenile lock-ups and the like. Agency spokesman Thomas Shapley said the list of employees taking furloughs – between one-quarter and half the staff – is still subject to change. However, Secretary Susan Dreyfus plans to take leave without pay July 12, although she intends to work, Shapley said.
• The Department of Health expects to shut down offices to the public on 10 days over the next year. Roughly 10 percent of the agency’s staff is exempted in the law, letting lab workers who do testing for TB and newborn diseases stay on the job, spokesman Tim Church said. Those who license hospitals and health care professionals also will work.
• All Department of Licensing offices will be closed July 12, and driver-licensing offices that usually are open on a Tuesday-to-Saturday schedule will observe the furloughs July 13, a Tuesday, agency spokesman Brad Benfield said. DOL has other alternate days in mind later in the year for other Monday furlough dates and one near Christmas.
• The Department of Natural Resources awaits approval of an alternative plan that lets firefighters stay on the job, among other things, spokesman Aaron Toso said.
• The Governor’s Office will be shut down July 12, but Gregoire and some security staffers will be at work. All other staff members will take the day off without pay.
• The state parks system, whose park operations are exempted in the law, is keeping the doors open at its Tumwater headquarters. The agency is saving its $237,000 share of the budget cut by giving $30,000 cash incentives for three veteran workers with more than 30 years on the job to retire early, said Ilene Frisch, the agency’s director of administration, finance and technology. Frisch said the jobs must stay vacant two years to recoup, and that means the positions could be at risk of going away permanently.
• About 2,400 of Washington’s 8,000 corrections workers are taking layoffs, but corrections officers in prisons and community corrections officers stay on the job, Department of Corrections spokesman Chad Lewis said.
Some agencies already are preparing signs to alert the public to the closures, including Licensing and Health. One agency is considering Twitter messages.
Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688 email@example.com www.theolympian.com/politicsblog