Sandoval seeks to end state furloughs sooner

CARSON CITY — The letter sent to state employees from Gov. Brian Sandoval on Monday was not an April Fools’ joke. Sandoval announced that because of efficiencies and reduced costs expected in his proposed budget, he will seek to eliminate state worker furloughs starting July 1, 2014.

A union official Tuesday questioned the motivation for the announcement, suggesting it is intended to help Sandoval’s re-election effort next year.

Sandoval also said budget savings will allow him to put $25 million more into programs within the Department of Health and Human Services, including $4 million to help the state’s mentally ill population.

With Monday’s announcement of
$25 million more for public education, Sandoval has identified $62 million in savings in his proposed 2013-15 budget that can be directed to his budget priorities.

The proposals will be submitted to the Legislature as budget amendments.

Sandoval’s original budget submitted to the Legislature proposed reducing furlough days from the current six days to three in each of the two fiscal years that start July 1 . The budget amendment that will be submitted to lawmakers this week will propose eliminating the three furlough days originally proposed in the second fiscal year of the state budget.

“You and your fellow state employees have continuously done more with less while serving our fellow citizens with dignity and respect,” Sandoval said in the letter. “I am pleased that we are able to recognize your service and sacrifice by eliminating furloughs completely beginning in FY15.”

Eliminating the furloughs in the second year of the budget would cost the state general fund about $12 million.

A reduction in state employee medical costs is one area of savings that has allowed Sandoval to make the recommendation.

But Keith Uriarte, chief of staff of AFSCME-Local 4041, which represents some state workers, said Sandoval is playing a shell game to eliminate the furloughs as a tactic to get through his re-election campaign in 2014.

Complete details of the source of the money to eliminate the furloughs have yet to be released, but Uriarte said at least some of it is expected to come out of a reserve fund from the state employees health insurance plan.

“That is all one-time money,” he said. “It is not supposed to be used for ongoing benefits.”

Much of the reserve came from the employees themselves, Uriarte said.

If the economy does not continue to improve, furloughs might be proposed again in the 2015-17 budget cycle after the reserve is drained to eliminate furloughs in fiscal year 2015, he said.

Sandoval’s human services spending proposals would restore funding to child care subsidies at a cost of $4 million; increase medical provider reimbursement rates at a cost of $11 million; and provide $6 million to counties by reducing local government Medicaid costs.

Sandoval also plans to spend $4 million for services to the mentally ill by advancing a jail and prison re-entry system to ensure seamless delivery of mental health services.

The public education spending increases are geared toward English language learners and all-day kindergarten.

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