The impact of impending state employee furloughs remains unclear, but Kansas Democrats plan to introduce a bill to keep workers on the job temporarily.
House Democrats unveiled a proposal Wednesday to fund two months’ worth of state salaries at a cost of almost $200 million. The plan is meant to bridge the gap between now and when the Legislature’s Republican supermajorities come to agreement on a $406 million tax increase to help close the $800 million budget deficit for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
“State employees should not be used as political pawns and held hostage during this budget debate,” said House Minority Leader Tom Burroughs, a Democrat from Baldwin City. “Democrats want to ensure hard-working state employees get paid and that state government continues to operate uninterrupted.”
Shawn Sullivan, the state budget director, warned more than a week ago that nonessential state workers would be furloughed if legislators don’t reach a tax and budget deal by Saturday night.
But agreement on a tax increase remains elusive. The Senate voted to send a tax bill across to the House on Wednesday, but it is a stripped-down bill meant only to be used as a vehicle for conference committee negotiations.
Burroughs said the Democrats have requested information from the administration on which of the state’s 35,000 to 40,000 state workers will be deemed “nonessential” and targeted for furlough, but they have not received it.
“We asked for it three days ago,” Burroughs said.
“We are in the process of reviewing this list of employees in the event the Legislature does not pass a budget before midnight Saturday, June 6 and a furlough needs to be implemented.”- Sara Belfry, spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment
Earlier this week, public information officers for health-related agencies said they were still making those determinations.
“KDHE has an existing Continuity of Operations Plan that includes identifying essential employees,” Sara Belfry, spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said Monday. “We are in the process of reviewing this list of employees in the event the Legislature does not pass a budget before midnight Saturday, June 6, and a furlough needs to be implemented.”
Theresa Freed, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Department for Children and Families, said the agency’s child protection responsibilities would continue unabated.
“Should furloughs be necessary, the Kansas Protection Reporting Center will continue to be staffed to take abuse and neglect reports 24/7,” Freed said. “We are reviewing our list of essential workers to determine if additional employees should be added to the list to ensure safety needs are met.”
Angela de Rocha, spokeswoman for the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, said state hospitals also won’t be affected.
“We’re still working on the numbers (of employees who would be affected by furloughs),” de Rocha said. “But I can say that the care staff at the state hospitals will not be furloughed. The individuals at the state hospitals have to be taken care of, so the staff will not be furloughed.”
KDADS is charged with managing state’s two hospitals, in Topeka and Parsons, for people with severe developmental disabilities, and the two hospitals, in Larned and Osawatomie, for people with severe and persistent mental illnesses.
The Democrats’ bill would only fund state worker salaries, not other costs of operating government like utilities, supplies and gasoline.
Some of those are purchased in bulk, Burroughs said, so the workers would be able to continue doing their jobs for an undetermined amount of time.
Rep. Barbara Ballard, a Democrat from Lawrence who works for the University of Kansas, said the Democrats’ bill was essential to keeping about 15,000 people on the job at the state’s public universities.
Otherwise, Ballard said, things like summer classes, new student orientation and research could be at risk.
“This is a serious dilemma for our state,” Ballard said.