Virginia considers four-day workweek to save money

Sept. 13 (Bloomberg) -- Edwin Burton, professor at the University of Virginia, talks with Bloomberg's Melissa Long about the state's economy and labor market. Burton also discusses the impact of high unemployment on Democrat congressional candidates in Virginia. (Source: Bloomberg)
By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 14, 2010

RICHMOND -- State employees could take Fridays off under a proposal Virginia is considering to save millions of dollars on energy by shutting down government buildings across the state one day a week.

Employees would work 10-hour days four times a week, although some agencies -- including those involved in law enforcement, public health, higher education and departments that generate revenue, such as museums -- would be exempt.

The state could save $3.19 million by moving 25 agencies to four-day workweeks and closing hundreds of state-owned buildings, according to a preliminary estimate by the Virginia Department of Planning and Budget. That includes $1.5 million on energy, $880,000 on cleanup and $810,000 on overtime.

There are downsides: The hours might make it difficult for those trying to find day care or public transportation to and from the office. And Virginians would have to get used to not being able to use many government services on Fridays.

On Monday, a commission created by Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) voted to approve that recommendation as well as almost two dozen others to shave money from the state budget while making government more user-friendly and efficient.

Alex McMurtrie, a Richmond lawyer and former legislator who serves on the commission, said the four-day workweek should be a considerable savings to government if the state can help families work out such considerations as daycare and dinnertime.

The panel also voted to offer forms online instead of on paper; set up "one-stop centers" to let residents do all their state business in a single place instead of multiple places such as the DMV and tax departments; consolidate accounting and payroll systems; and eliminate 800 numbers.

It also recommended criteria for eliminating boards and commissions, although it did not name any that should be disbanded. Based on the criteria, about 25 percent of existing boards and commissions could be eliminated, panel members said.

State officials do not yet have estimates for financial savings of all the recommendations.

"It's big what we talked about today,'' said Fred Malek, chairman of the 31-member Governor's Commission on Government Reform and Restructuring. "The improvement to government service, the greater transparency and the simplification will result in additional better services for the constituency. I think we're making meaningful progress."

The panel will vote on a second set of recommendations Oct. 4 when it considers McDonnell's proposal to privatize the state's liquor system. The governor said he will call the General Assembly back to Richmond in November for a special session to debate the commission's proposals, but some of them, including the four-day workweek, do not need legislative approval.

If McDonnell adopts the recommendations, Virginia would be the second state (after Utah) to implement a four-day workweek for the bulk of its workforce.

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