Kansas Senate may consider plan to block state furloughs

(KSNT File Photo)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Senate leaders on Saturday were warming up to the idea of passing a stopgap measure to avoid a partial shutdown of state government over the Legislature’s impasse on budget and tax issues.

Without such a measure or a deal by Sunday on taxes and spending, the state is not authorized to pay nonessential state employees next week. The Senate could consider a bill passed unanimously by the House Saturday or its own stopgap measure, Majority Leader Terry Bruce said.

“What’s becoming critical is we do need to find some relief for our state workers. And if that drags the session on a little longer and we have to work a little longer, so be it,” Bruce said. “That’s our fault for not getting something done earlier.”

Employees’ compensation lags several weeks behind their work, so their salary for the next pay period would come out of the budget from the fiscal year beginning July 1.

The House measure would define all state workers as “essential” in a bid to avoid the furloughs of nonessential staff. But in a meeting of GOP senators, Bruce called the move a “feel-good piece that doesn’t have any consequential effect” because it wouldn’t authorize the state to pay salaries slated for the next fiscal year.

Instead, the Senate may consider a proposal that would provide a full budget for the next two weeks.

At least 24,200 employees received furlough notices Friday. But public school employees or judicial branch workers weren’t included because budgets for those agencies have already been signed into law.

Kansas’ largest state employees union said it would file legal action should the furloughs be enacted.

The House earlier this week approved a proposed $15.5 billion budget for the next fiscal year that would leave the state with a $406 million shortfall, but GOP lawmakers are sharply divided over raising taxes to fill the rest of the gap. Unlike the federal government, the state is required to pass budgets without deficits.

Saturday was the 107th day of lawmakers’ annual session, tying it with the 2002 session as the longest ever. Legislative leaders typically schedule sessions to last 90 days, and each extra day this year has cost the state a total of more than $40,000.

Legislators also have never waited as late in the year to wrap up their work on the next state budget.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, said state workers are being treated unfairly and asked his colleagues during a debate, “What’s the plan to avoid these furloughs?”

But Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, said lawmakers’ first option for avoiding furloughs is passing a tax plan and a balanced budget.

The percentage of workers receiving furloughs varied by agency. Department of Administration spokesman John Milburn said it averaged about 40 percent for the agencies under Brownback’s direct control, though the Department of Transportation reported notifying about 75 percent of its workers.

Normally, furloughs are negotiated with state employee unions with 30 days’ notice given to workers before they go into effect, said Rebecca Proctor, executive director of the Kansas Organization of State Employees. The administration has said the notification requirements can be waived because the current situation meets the criteria of an emergency, which Proctor called “ridiculous.”

“I don’t see how anyone in good conscience can argue that this is an emergency,” Proctor said, arguing that legislators could have addressed the budget situation sooner.

 

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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