Furloughs of Two to Five Days Proposed

By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 4, 2008

Most state employees in Maryland would be required to take two to five days of unpaid leave by June to help address the state's continuing budget problems under a proposal by Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration.

The furloughs would affect more than 67,000 employees and contractual workers whose positions are part of Maryland's general fund, the state's primary operating budget, for a projected savings of about $34 million, according to an administration document. Thousands of other state employees whose salaries are paid with other funds, including transportation workers, would also be affected, O'Malley aides said.

The plan, which was circulating yesterday among labor union leaders, is expected to be part of a new round of at least $200 million in midyear budget cuts formally proposed by O'Malley (D) in coming weeks.

"They're part of it," O'Malley confirmed to reporters yesterday, when asked about furloughs. "It's a matter of when and how long."

A letter sent to union leaders asked for feedback by the end of the week on a plan that would require all employees to take at least two days of unpaid leave, including the Fridays after Christmas and New Year's Day. Shuttering state government offices on those days could generate additional savings, the letter said.

Employees making $40,000 or more would be required to take an additional two to three days before the end of June. The plan would exempt "24/7 health and public safety positions," according to the letter.

Patrick Moran, director of AFSCME Maryland, the labor union that represents the largest number of state workers, said he does not consider the plan to be final.

"We have not negotiated anything," Moran said. "This is merely a proposal."

O'Malley aides said that they are trying to work cooperatively with unions but that the governor can impose the furloughs on executive branch employees without the blessing of the unions.

Employees working outside the executive branch, including those in the legislative and judicial branches, will also be asked to take furloughs, though the governor cannot mandate that they take unpaid leave, O'Malley aides said.

The spending cuts are designed to keep Maryland's $15 billion general fund budget balanced through the current fiscal year, which ends in June. O'Malley won approval for a previous round of cuts, totaling about $300 million, from the Board of Public Works in October. That three-member panel is authorized to cut the budget when the General Assembly is not in session.

The budget outlook for next year is more dire. Legislative analysts are projecting a shortfall of more than $1 billion, which they say could grow larger if the economic downturn continues.

Other governments in the area have also turned to furloughs for short-term savings. Prince George's County, for example, is requiring nearly 6,000 employees to take 10 days of unpaid leave. A coalition of five unions representing public safety workers in the county have filed suit in Circuit Court, arguing that the county is in breach of contracts.

Staff writer Lisa Rein contributed to this report.

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