Eye On Boise

Something new: Paid furloughs?

Here's a news item from The Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho's four top tax collectors will still get paid for furlough hours they took to save money and show solidarity with state workers getting their pay cut, because the law forbids them from altering their salaries voluntarily. Royce Chigbrow, David Langhorst, Sam Haws and Tom Katsilometes took 292 hours of furlough in the fiscal year ending June 30. Since their salaries are set by the Legislature, however, the state controller's office says the commissioners will be paid for furlough time. That amounts to nearly $12,000. The four said in a memo made public Wednesday by the Boise Guardian blog, "We regret having to do this, but it is simply out of our hands." Commissioners could still donate a share of their salaries to Idaho or a charity, but they'd be on the hook for any taxes. Click below to read a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Idaho tax collectors try to take pay cut but can't
By JOHN MILLER, Associated Press Writer

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — With a looming state budget gap, Idaho's four top tax collectors wanted to show solidarity with state workers who were having their wages cut. So they took furlough days to reduce their own salaries.

Only trouble is, their voluntarily turning down salary violates state law, the tax collectors learned Wednesday — so they will get be paid for the days they took off.

Royce Chigbrow, David Langhorst, Sam Haws and Tom Katsilometes took 292 hours of furlough in the fiscal year ending June 30.

But since their salaries are set by the Legislature — part of a policy meant to remove pay from potential political interference — the state controller's office said the commissioners will be paid for furlough time. That amounts to $11,995.41.

"Since the inception of required furlough hours taken by Tax Commission employees, the commissioners have willingly participated and also taken the appropriate furlough hours," the commission wrote in a memo to its employees. "The commissioners have now been told that by doing so, we are violating state law. Therefore, we must comply with the law. We regret having to do this, but it is simply out of our hands."

Excluding the final pay period of fiscal year 2010, all 400 State Tax Commission employees have taken 27,040 hours of furlough, saving Idaho $670,108.59, commission spokeswoman Liz Rodosovich said.

Now that they're being paid for their furlough time, tax commissioners could still donate a share of their salaries to Idaho or a charity.

But they'd be on the hook for any tax liabilities.

Controller Donna Jones, whose office oversees the state payroll, learned of the commission's furloughs two weeks ago.

She initially sought an informal opinion from the Idaho attorney general's office about the appropriateness of the Tax Commission's "innovative ways to save personnel costs."

"It is the controller's position that the code(s) which pertain to salaries set by statute do not allow for situational interpretation," according to Jones' office's letter.

Dan Goicoechea, chief deputy state controller, said the attorney general concluded that state elected officials, as well as members of the Idaho State Tax Commission, the Idaho Public Utilities Commission and the Idaho Industrial Commission, all have their salaries set by statute.

As a result, salaries for these positions can be neither reduced nor increased without the Legislature's consent.

"The law says you don't pay them more, you don't pay them less," Goicoechea said, adding the controller's payroll software has since been updated to catch problems like this in the future.

"We will not process anything that's in violation of state code," he said.

Contacted at his office in Boise Wednesday, Langhorst said he's still deciding how to address the situation — and his share of the furlough pay.

He joined the Tax Commission on July 6, 2009 as an appointee of Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter and says it was standard practice then for commissioners to take furloughs along with the agency's other employees, to participate in cost savings to fill a looming state budget hole.

"We took those furlough days in good faith," Langhorst said.

Commissioners earn just over $85,000 annually.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.




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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Russell covers Idaho news from the state capitol in Boise and writes the Eye on Boise blog.

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