BERLIN – While most local workers had time off this week to enjoy the holidays, some state employees in the area could soon be getting more time off then they desire.
Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley last week signed an executive order establishing a furlough and salary reduction plan for all state employees, including many in Worcester County, due to the deepening national recession. According to estimates, the plan is expected to save the state over $34 million in fiscal year 2009. O’Malley’s announcement of the furlough and salary reduction plan came just hours before the state’s Board of Revenue Estimates announced hundreds of millions of dollars in further state revenue reductions for the next fiscal year and the year after.
“In the midst of this deepening national recession, there are some difficult decisions before us that we wish we didn’t have to make,” he said. “After collaborating with labor leaders over the last few weeks, I have signed an executive order establishing a furlough and salary reduction plan for all state employees due to this recession that has us all tightening our belts at work and at home.”
Over the past 22 months, the O’Malley administration has made strides in reigning in the state’s budget problems by reducing spending by $2.2 billion, eliminating over 1,500 positions and keeping budget growth at less than four percent annually. The furlough and pay reduction plan announced last week is expected to save the state over $34 million, but it was not an easy decision for the governor.
“Indeed, the best days in life aren’t always the easiest days,” he said. “I continue to believe that we will come out of this national recession stronger than ever thanks to the choices we’ve made together to protect our priorities and quality of life.”
However, the priorities and the quality of life of the state workers subjected to the plan will obviously be affected. All employees subject to the executive order will be required to forego the equivalent of at least two days of pay, and those making over $40,000 will also be required to take 16 or 24 furlough hours for which they will not be paid. Those workers making less than $40,000 will not be required to take the extra furlough hours, although they will be included in the equivalent of two days pay reduction. The two days designated for the pay reduction are today, December 26, and next Friday, January 2.
To mitigate the impact of the required two days without pay reduction, the salary cuts will be spread over the course of fiscal year 2009. As for the additional furlough hours for employees making over $40,000, they will be in the form of leave without pay and will be reflected in the actual pay period in which the employees do not work.
Not every state employee will be effected by the furlough and pay reduction plan. Employees in 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week health and public safety positions are exempt from the pay reductions. While the plan will not be warmly accepted by most of the state employees effected, at least some in the local area acknowledged desperate times often call for desperate measures.
“The state is doing a lot of different things to attempt to balance the budget and these furloughs and pay reductions are part of that,” said Robert Smith, director of the State Department of Assessment and Taxation for Worcester County. “Some of my people will be taking off as many as five extra days next year, while others will be taking as few as two.”
Smith said the cutbacks will likely strain his already understaffed office as they prepare for the next wave of property assessments in the north end of Worcester County.
“My office is already short of people as it is,” he said. “But we’ll do the best we can being shorthanded. Everybody has got to do what they have to do to make this work while the state is faced with these issues.”