OLYMPIA – Thousands of state workers will take 10 days off without pay over the next 14 months under a law signed Tuesday by Gov. Chris Gregoire.
The new law is a cost-cutting measure approved by the Legislature in the face of a $2.8 billion shortfall in the state’s general fund. The furloughs could cut some $50 million in wage and salary expenses from the general fund and $86 million overall.
Nearly 12,500 state workers will be required to take 10 designated days off without pay unless their management comes up with another way to match projected savings from furloughs.
Gregoire vetoed one section of the bill, which required a set amount – $10 million – in savings from managers through the furloughs. She said the provision could have resulted in extra furlough days among managers to reach that specified amount.
“This is about equity,” she said. Management will have the same furlough days as the rank and file.
The first furlough day is July 12. Most are on Fridays or Mondays, and no month has more than one furlough day. Some departments are exempt from the law, including the state patrol, prisons, child protective services, academic staff at state colleges and universities, state liquor stores and parks.
While most bill-signings are attended by sponsors and others ready to celebrate a new law, no one showed up to take credit or applaud the enactment of the furlough bill. Gregoire signed it and had no one to accept the ceremonial pen.
Marty Brown, the director of the Office of Financial Management, said some details are still being worked out. For example, while college faculty are exempt, other staff aren’t. But someone has to unlock the buildings and turn on the heat, he said. The state will find ways to notify the public and state employees of office closures in advance of the furlough days, just as it does for holidays that are celebrated by the state but not the local or federal government.
“We’ll have to start way earlier,” he added.