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All state workers being asked to sacrifice

Calls for furloughs for all state employees

POSTED: July 27, 2009 10:29 a.m.
Teachers are not the only victims to the furloughs and budget cuts plaguing the state.
At an estimated $900 million in the hole, Governor Sonny Perdue called on everyone to pick up a shovel to help dig the state out of the deficit.
And every state employee is being asked to take three days without pay during the rest of the calendar year until December.
In addition, state agencies also need to cut their budgets by five percent.
“It’s not just automatic that they announce it one day and begin it the next,” said Gordy Wright, spokesperson for the Georgia department of public safety.
“Really, there’ll be no difference noticed to the public. It’s the equivalent of someone calling in sick.”
Furloughs at patrol posts across the state won’t mean fewer troopers to patrol the highways.
“We’re trying to plan the furlough days when traffic is lightest,” Wright said. “Each supervisor would have a general idea when the lighter days would be so furloughs be scheduled and not diminish service to the public.”
But blows to an already-hammered Medicaid will mean nothing but diminished services.
“From a Medicaid standpoint, it’s kind of early to know what the cuts will mean,” said Timothy Sweeney with the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.
He suspects the foggy forecast will clear up Aug. 13 and 27 when Department of Community Health meets.
Agencies are required to send their proposals for three percent cuts by Sept. 1.
“I think there’s definitely concern how these cuts will affect the services that a lot of people depend on, especially in an economy that’s still in trouble,” Sweeney said.  
Options include reducing reimbursement rates to hospitals and pharmacies, which trickles down to community public health.
Budget cuts hurt, but can also help, as evidenced in the $274 million the state saved from last month’s 25 percent mandated cuts, according to spokesperson Bert Brantley.
And it was a matter of choosing the lesser of two evils.
“If you don’t furlough, then really the only other option is to layoff,” Brantley said.  “I think given the option…I think this is certainly the more reasonable and common sense answer to that.”
And layoffs could make unemployment problems worse across the state.
“It would have the opposite effect of what we’re trying to do,” Brantley said. “This is a temporary problem. The economy is not going to be bad forever.”
Brantley said Tuesday’s announcement included input from the senate and the house.
“There was a lot of discussion, a lot of different ideas thrown out, so it’s a very cooperative process,” Brantley said.
But, Sweeney said, drastic budget cuts and furloughs may have been avoided.
“There were options on the table last session that would [have] help to raise more revenue,” Sweeney said, mentioning the failed tobacco tax that might have brought in $440 million.
“Definitely the level of cuts could’ve been, and could be still, mitigated by finding addition sources of revenue.”
Though county governments cried, one of the bigger money-savers for the state was the estimated $428 million from doing away with the homeowners tax relief grant.
“Our agencies have done a tremendous job in the cuts they made so far,” Brantley said. “They’ve been able to manage…and really maintain a level of service that hasn’t been a great inconvenience to our citizens.”  
“I know they’ll take these cuts very seriously and think very hard on how to achieve them and maintain services as much as possible,” Brantley said.
 

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