Kansas state workers begin receiving furlough notices

Kansas state Rep. Marvin Kleeb, right, R-Overland Park, discusses tax issues during negotiations between the House and Senate on tax issues, as Rep. Gene Suellentrop, left, R-Wichita, watches, Friday, June 5, 2015, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. Legislators' inability to resolve budget and tax issues has led state agencies to issue furlough notices to nonessential employees. (AP Photo/Nicholas Clayton)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas agencies began sending furlough notices Friday to 24,000 nonessential state employees as legislators remained deadlocked over how to balance the budget and avert a partial government shutdown.

Without a deal on taxes and spending for the fiscal year beginning July 1, the state is not authorized to pay the nonessential state employees next week. It wasn’t immediately clear how many notices were sent, but the Department of Administration said on its website that the affected workers would be told by noon Friday.

The House on Wednesday approved a proposed budget that would leave the state with a $406 million shortfall, but GOP lawmakers are sharply divided over raising taxes to fill the rest of the gap. Unlike the federal government, states are required to pass budgets without deficits.

The impasse has driven the lawmakers into overtime, making the current session the second longest in state history. The looming possibility of a partial government shutdown is “like some nightmare,” said Democratic Rep. Tom Sawyer from Wichita.

About 1,800 of the Department of Transportation’s 2,400 workers would be furloughed without a budget deal, but road safety crews would still be available and road construction works would continue, spokesman Steve Swartz said.

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.

Department of Corrections spokesman Adam Pfannenstiel said prisons will remain operating, but parole offices would have some staffing reductions. He did not have other details. A spokeswoman for the revenue department could not immediately provide details on furlough notices.

Shortly after the noon deadline, the Department of Children and Families was still in the process of notifying employees and spokeswoman Theresa Freed said she could not comment on the number of workers that would be furloughed. She said federal requirements would mean more of its workers would be deemed essential than in other agencies.

Normally, furloughs would be negotiated with state employee unions and 30 days’ notice would be given before furloughs went into effect, Proctor 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”

The furlough 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.

Fifty-four GOP House members called on the Senate Friday to move on a budget measure to prevent the furloughs, with House Speaker Ray Merrick of Stilwell saying in a statement that workers shouldn’t be penalized “because the Senate stalled on taking up the budget.”

The Senate met only briefly Friday morning did not plan to meet again until at least mid-afternoon. Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce said he doesn’t plan to schedule a debate on the budget passed by the House or alternative proposals until work on a plan for raising taxes progresses.

“Without the tax plan, the budget’s unconstitutional and doesn’t accomplish what we need to for our state workers, which is stop the furloughs,” said Bruce, a Nickerson Republican.

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