Friday, January 8, 2010
Mississippi Sen. Alice Harden, D-Jackson, said she will submit a bill this legislative session forcing all state employees not directly connected to essential services, like hospital care, to accept a one-day-a-month furlough.
The day off would be unpaid leave, allowing the state to realize some savings to help deal with painful revenue shortfalls caused by a 16-month string of lower than expected tax receipts. Mississippi has projected close to a $400 million revenue shortfall for this fiscal year, and Gov. Haley Barbour has predicted revenues to continue a precipitous slide for fiscal years 2011 and 2012.
The governor has already recommended consolidating many of the state's public-school districts, and historically black colleges and universities. Many legislators are also staring hard at cuts in Medicaid and decreasing the Mississippi Adequate Education ProgramMAEP, the program for funding low-revenue school districtsby about 6 percent. Harden says a little temporary sacrifice from all state employees may spare some from losing their jobs permanently.
"My whole position is it's better than the alternative," Harden said. "We will see another round of cuts very soon. We've closed vacant positions, but these cuts will inevitably end jobs. What we don't want to happen is for people to lose jobs. This is a less (painful) way for everybody to share a little bit. If we all give a little bit, then everybody is better off."
Harden added that cuts will most likely affect the state's Medicaid program, and take a particularly hard swing at handicapped and senior Mississippians who are dependent on social services.
The Jackson senator said she is aiming the furlough not just at lower- and mid-level state employees, but top management as well.
"I'm aiming this also at agency heads that can make $150,000. All state employees, all agency heads, would be required that the government close down one day a month for the next six months, to help balance budget," Harden said, adding that she also supported imposing cuts to any contractor doing business with the state. "Any state contract has to be reduced by the amount we are cutting from agency budgets," she said.
Dan Turner, a spokesman for Gov. Haley Barbour, said he doubted the governor would embrace the idea of furloughs in favor of more permanent methods for reducing the budget.
"I think the governor's attitude is more about getting agencies streamlined and out from under the state Personnel Board rules," Turner told the Jackson Free Press.
Personnel Board rules protect many state employees from arbitrary firing by setting up procedures for hiring and firing, including an appeals process for employees who lose their jobs.
Union leaders oppose the move, and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Johnny Stringer, D-Montrose, said he would oppose a bill lifting the Personnel Board protections for state employees, even temporarily.
For more state and legislative news, follow the JFP State Blog.
Something's gotta give. I'm not sure what it'll be.
I'm "surprised" that we are not forcing Barbour to consider the consolidation of his three white institutions, Ole MS, USM, and MS State. Certainly if JSU, ASU and MVSU will give him some financial relief, then the other should be a jackpot, a windfall! Think about it. I wonder if Senator Hardin has seriously though about how much money could be saved if the MS House of Rep. and Senate would take a furlough? Our State has been on automatic pilot for some time now. We need people with innovative/creative management strategies for these times in our lives. We also need people who are fair and who are able to take the politics and race baiting out of the equation.