State says more than 700 employees must take furloughs

CARSON CITY -- The state Board of Examiners decided Tuesday that more than 700 state employees whose salaries are paid by the federal government must take an unpaid furlough day each month like all other state workers.

The step means state government will give back to the federal government money that would have been used to pay the employees' salaries for the furlough days.

The state had no estimate of how much money will be returned.

After the meeting, Gov. Jim Gibbons said he supported furloughing federally paid workers in the spirit "of equality."

He said there might be morale problems among other state workers because they have been required to take a furlough day and the federally paid employees have not.

Since July 1, most state workers have been required to take one eight-hour furlough day each month. Taking that day reduces their salaries by 4.6 percent.

The 2-0 vote Tuesday means 493 workers from the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation also must take furlough days, with 23 Department of Military and 25 Division of Forestry employees. The forestry and military employees mainly are firefighters.

Andrew Clinger, the state budget director, said he did not know how much money the state will give back to the federal government.

He said the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation might not have to give back any money because the savings from furloughs could be used to hire additional workers.

Starting in July, nearly 2,000 Department of Correction workers, mainly correctional officers, also will be required to take monthly days off without pay.

The Board of Examiners had found $4 million needed to keep paying them since July 2009 in lieu of furlough days, but the continuing state revenue shortfall has resulted in all employees being required to take furloughs.

Secretary of State Ross Miller voted with Gibbons to approve furlough days for the federally paid workers. Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto missed part of the discussion and abstained from voting.

Masto last month asked the two other board members to delay a decision until the matter could be considered in more detail. She then questioned why the state should lay off the employees when their salaries are 100 percent paid for by the federal government.

The state was "turning back" federal dollars, Masto said at the time.

But at Tuesday's meeting, both Nevada National Guard Gen. William Burks and Cindy Jones, the Nevada Employment Security Commission administrator, said they could manage their work with employees taking furloughs.

Burks, however, also said that "it makes no sense" to furlough employees when the money is there to pay them.

He called doing without the workers "an unacceptable risk," but added, "We can still do the job."

"Everything we do here has some element of risk," Gibbons replied.

Nevada's unemployment rate remains above 13 percent, but Jones said that claims being filed are not increasing and that the commission can manage with the furloughs.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at or 775-687-3901.