Bowles wants university furloughs

March 24, 2009 5:10:56 PM PDT
The debate over forcing furloughs for state employees heated up Tuesday with heavy hitters on both sides talking to lawmakers.North Carolina has nearly 300,000 employees, and forcing them to take unpaid time off from work affects every one of them and their families.

The Governor has said she's against furloughs, but the head of the University of North Carolina system told state lawmakers Tuesday that furloughs could help balance college budgets.

Erskine Bowles testified before a Senate budget writing committee.

He said the University of North Carolina system will have to cut as many as 500 jobs if Governor Perdue's budget proposal becomes law. Bowles said the $192 million in cuts suggested by Perdue would harm the quality of education on the 16 campuses.

"On a furlough, I can save about 8 million dollars a day," said Bowles.

Click here to read the proposed legislation (.pdf)

Not so fast said the some state employees.

"Furloughs - at this point in time - would be a very shortsighted thing to do," said Artis Watkins with the State Employees Association.

Under current law, state workers cannot be furloughed. Some, like Bowles, are pushing hard for that to be changed as a way to help weather this recession.

"Because we can furlough on Friday afternoons. We can furlough right before a holiday where your productivity is not as high as it should be anyway," he explained.

State Treasurer Janet Cowell spoke too. She opposes furloughs and says they could threaten North Carolina's coveted triple-A bond rating because rating agencies look down on them.

"They're looking for long-term solutions, not short-term solutions," she explained. "Better to cut programs that aren't working rather than to do furloughs, where essentially you're not really addressing the problem."

That said, some key legislators are clearly open to changing the law.

"Some areas it'll probably work very well. Some areas it may not," said Sen. Tony Rand.

"Every business that comes to North Carolina or is in North Carolina today would use that option if it is needed," offered Sen. Marc Basnight.

Some state employees prefer furloughs to layoffs.

"As long as they keep talking about furloughing us and I can keep my job, I'm happy," offered Kevin Egelston.

But many who wouldn't go on the record say they oppose them. One worker told Eyewitness News she's tired of politicians saving the budget on the backs of state employees.

Bowles said lawmakers should consider giving campuses the ability to furlough workers to save money. Perdue didn't propose furloughs to manage the state budget gap, saying they would hurt the state's reputation as it recruits business. Bowles disagrees.

The Senate will propose and pass its own budget plan before sending it to the House, which will create its own version.

In response to Bowles, Press Secretary Chrissy Pearson released a statement on behalf of the Governor Tuesday.

"Governor Perdue prefers finding ways to balance the budget without the use of furloughs. That's why last week she presented a budget that, while balanced, invests in education and job creation while avoiding broad-based tax increases and furloughs."


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