State employees were hearing rumors and learning cold truths Friday about whether the Legislature’s failure to craft a budget with funding would keep them home without pay starting Sunday.
By afternoon, furlough notices for employees deemed nonessential were arriving by phone and e-mail.
Without a deal on taxes and spending for the fiscal year beginning July 1, the state is not authorized to pay nonessential state employees next week.
But late Friday, lawmakers were talking about making all employees essential temporarily in order to avoid furloughs. A vote on that was set for Saturday morning.
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At least 24,200 employees received furlough notices earlier Friday, and Kansas’ largest state employees union said it would file legal action Monday if needed.
Many public services operated by the state would continue to function, some with reduced staffing, if furloughs go into effect. State parks and driver’s license offices would be open. The Kansas Department of Transportation would have some crews to work road emergencies, but dead animals would not be picked up from roads unless they pose a hazard. And mowing alongside state highways would stop.
Kurt Konda has worked 10 years as a research associate at the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita. He will be furloughed Monday, barring legislative action.
“A gut check,” he said. “It hurts morale. We don’t get raises in forever, we get furloughed, and we see that custodians and people who are support staff, people living paycheck to paycheck – they got furloughed.”
KU administrators handled people with dignity, he said, telling furloughed workers that “ ‘nonessential’ does not mean ‘not important.’ ” But if the Legislature does not act, furloughs could damage Kansas and health care in the long run.
“If you’re in college now, why would you ever go to work in public service if this can happen to us now?” he said.
Irene Soto got her furlough notice from the Kansas Department for Children and Families, where she’s helped look out for families and vulnerable children for 14 years.
“All this flabbergasts me,” said Soto, a human services specialist. “If I ran my personal finances the way they (legislators) run state finances, I’d be bankrupt and in a world of hurt.”
Tony Marquez, the Wichita-based president of the union representing state parole officers, said some managers of parole officers and some people running programs to help parolees would be furloughed. But initial fears in his office that many experienced parole officers might be sent home did not materialize, he said.
State parole officers supervise more than 4,770 parolees in the state, more than 1,270 of them in Sedgwick County, said Marquez, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 64.
Plans for lawsuit
The state will be sued Monday morning unless the Legislature acts, said Rebecca Proctor, executive director of the Kansas Organization for State Employees. Her organization represents 9,000 state employees, from drivers on Kansas Department of Transportation road crews to health care workers to counselors to state corrections workers.
Normally, furloughs are negotiated with state employee unions with 30 days’ notice given to workers before they go into effect, she said. The administration has said the notification requirements can be waived because the current situation meets the criteria of an emergency, which Proctor called ridiculous.
“I’m a life-long Kansan, and I find all this disgusting,” she said. Furlough decisions are being made on the fly, with little thought about consequences to safety, she added.
“How irresponsible is it to go down a road like that if you don’t know what is at the end?”
Gov. Sam Brownback said Friday evening that he is optimistic the Legislature can pass a budget he would sign in time to avoid furloughs.
“It’s time to get this done,” he said.
If there are furloughs, they would not apply to public school employees or judicial branch workers, because budgets for those agencies have already been signed into law.
Because state employees receive their salaries two pay periods after the pay is earned, furloughed workers would not lose pay until July 3, said Gwen Larson, a spokeswoman for Emporia State University.
At Wichita State University, president John Bardo and his administrators told WSU employees that summer classes and summer camps will continue but that some people will be furloughed starting at 12:01 a.m. Sunday.
“Employees who will not be placed on furlough were notified of their status in an email earlier today” the WSU campus announcement said. “If you have not received such communication, then you will be furloughed.
“Should furloughs occur and become extensive, we will revisit the needs of the university and adjust the list accordingly” the WSU notice said.
Roughly 50 percent of WSU’s workforce would be furloughed, said WSU spokesman Joe Kleinsasser.
WSU deputy athletic director Darron Boatright said half of the athletic department could be furloughed, although he would not list names of employees paid by the state. The list will include people in administration, internal and external operations and coaches, he said. The other half are employees of the Intercollegiate Athletics Association and are not subject to the furlough.
Figures provided to the Associated Press on Friday showed that almost 71 percent of employees who have received furlough notices work at a state university. Department of Administration spokesman John Milburn said about 7,100 employees at agencies under the governor’s direct control have been sent notices.
Contributing: Associated Press and Paul Suellentrop of The Eagle
If furloughs happen
All alcohol enforcement agents, most counselors at state prisons and many social workers at the Department for Children and Families have been notified they would be furloughed, said Rebecca Proctor, executive director for the Kansas Organization of State Employees, the largest state employees union.
Here is how some agencies say they would be affected if lawmakers don’t pass a budget and furloughs begin Sunday.
Aging and disability services: Some consumers, licensing applicants and others may see temporary delays. Operations at the four state hospitals will not be affected, department of aging Secretary Kari Bruffett said. The agency will continue to process crisis exception requests and provide home- and community-based services.
Children and families: The DCF said clients “should expect minimal delays as they apply for and receive welfare benefits, employment services and child support. Child and adult protective services will be staffed.”
Courts: They will operate as usual, because they are funded under a separate budget that has already been approved.
Driver’s, car licenses: State driver’s license offices will remain open, and residents still will be able to renew vehicle tags and title transactions.
Health and environment: The agency said these services would be available: infectious disease reporting, environmental spill reporting, KanCare eligibility determinations, child-care complaints, public water supply testing and newborn blood-screening tests.
Birth, death, marriage and divorce certificates would not be issued.
Highways: About 1,800 of the Department of Transportation’s 2,400 workers would be furloughed without a budget deal, but some road safety crews would still be available, and road construction would continue. Highway rest areas would be open. Routine mowing would be suspended. Crews would remove dead animals from the road only if they pose a safety hazard.
Prisons: Department of Corrections spokesman Adam Pfannenstiel said prisons would continue to operate, but parole offices would have some staffing reductions.
Sedgwick County Extension Office: The office would be open, but extension agents would not be working. Support staff, paid for with county funds, would be working.
State parks: All state parks, wildlife areas and state fishing lakes would be open, though park offices would have reduced staffing. The Great Plains Nature Center in Wichita would be open.
If you received a furlough notice and would normally work on Sunday, The Eagle would like to hear from you. Contact Marcia Werts at email@example.com.