Washington's experiment with temporary state-employee furloughs is on track to save money and is not costing extra for overtime, Gov. Chris Gregoire’s budget office reported Thursday.
The Washington Federation of State Employees opposes the temporary layoffs as a cost- saving move. It has predicted higher overtime costs in order to complete work that can’t be done with almost 23,000 workers on unpaid furloughs each month.
But a review of accounting records by the Office of Financial Management found state government cut its overtime costs in July by almost $1.1 million compared with the same month a year ago. Agencies shelled out nearly $10.1 million in overtime during the first month of furloughs in July, which also was $244,102 less than agencies spent in June, according to OFM.
“We’re pleased with the results,” said Glenn Kuper, OFM spokesman, calling the drop in cost a good sign.
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“We wouldn’t have expected them to come up with something that proves our case,” federation spokesman Tim Welch countered.
OFM is expecting to save $73 million from 10 furlough days scheduled periodically through June next year. Oregon and other states saw overtime go up when furloughs were used in prisons and agencies that couldn’t shut their doors, but Washington’s law exempts such critical public- safety workers from the layoffs.
Welch said the union, which has a lawsuit pending over the furloughs, plans to do its own review of overtime. He said the federation formally asked the governor’s labor-relations office for detailed agency pay data and hopes to receive it next week.
OFM said overtime cost varied by agency:
• The largest spike in cost was at the Department of Natural Resources, which paid $1 million in overtime in July. That was $889,637 more than in June, but the increase was the result of fire-suppression costs that typically flare each July. But year over year, the agency’s overtime in July was almost $700,000 lower than for July 2009, spokesman Aaron Toso said.
DNR’s costs were not related to furloughs. The agency met its savings allotment by leaving vacant positions open longer rather than using temporary layoffs, Toso said.
• The Department of Corrections paid $1.89 million in overtime in July, which was $611,715 more than in June but $1.8 million less than for July 2009. Some overtime is the result of paying staff on holidays such as Fourth of July.
• The Department of Transportation paid $807,656 for overtime in July, which was $1.3 million less than in June and $893,957 million less than in July a year ago.
• The Department of Social and Health Services saw its July overtime fall by $225,169 month to month, but increase by $72,476 year over year. The agency has said it uses overtime to deal with having 10 percent less staffing than in previous years.
• The Department of Agriculture saw an increase of $57,410 for July overtime due to the cost of inspectors for a large cherry crop and a grain shipment, Kuper said. The agency’s inspection workers were exempt from furloughs, so the increase was entirely the result of market or industry factors, and the overtime was paid by the industry, according to Kuper.
• The State Patrol spent $705,658 for overtime in July, up $72,368 from June.
Majority Democrats in the Legislature approved the furloughs in Senate Bill 6503 in April despite labor unions’ objections.
The furloughs were part of a budget-balancing deal that also cut spending by hundreds of millions of dollars, eliminated jobs and raised taxes and other revenues by nearly $800 million a year. Washington’s 10 furlough days are predicted to save $38 million from the general fund and $35 million more from other fund sources.
Welch said the federation and state recently negotiated a furlough agreement to ensure that workers on alternative schedules – such as nine- and 10-hour days – do not have to forfeit more than eight hours of pay for each furlough day taken.
About two dozen states have used furloughs to trim payroll, and the California state supreme court on Wednesday refused to block plans by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to furlough about 150,000 workers today and again Aug. 27.
Schwarzenegger’s furlough plan requires many workers to take three unpaid days off each month, and arguments are scheduled Sept. 8 over whether the governor has authority to do that, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Brad Shannon: 360-357-1688 email@example.com www.theolympian.com/politicsblog