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Strategic Budget Advisory Committee (SBAC)
Strategic Budget Advisory Committee

State Worker Furloughs Proposed

By Paul Hammel and Martha Stoddard

November 05, 2009

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Nebraska lawmakers gather for special budget-cutting session. Aaron James/THE WORLD-HERALD

LINCOLN -- At least one state senator thinks that furloughing state employees would be a better route to cutting the state budget than laying off those workers.

This morning, State Sen. Bill Avery of Lincoln introduced a resolution in the special session of the Nebraska Legislature that would have state agencies employ limited furloughs rather than layoffs to help solve the state's $334 million budget dilemma.

Furloughs - or unpaid time off the job - would not be as disruptive to state services as layoffs, Avery indicated in his resolution.

If the state chose to use layoffs to solve the state's budget woes, it would need to cut 400 workers, the state's top budget official said Thursday afternoon.

Gerry Oligmueller told the Legislature's Appropriations Committee that state agencies can likely manage the budget cuts this year by eliminating vacant jobs and other means.

But next year, up to 400 layoffs would be necessary if agencies used that as the sole means of solving the funding cuts proposed by the governor.

The chief justice of the Nebraska Supreme Court, Mike Heavican, also testified that county courtrooms in 23 rural counties will likely have to close next year to handle the 5-percent funding cut for that year.

Furloughs and layoffs in other courts are likely as well, he said.

The Legislature began a special session Wednesday to tackle a shortfall of state tax revenue caused by the recession. Gov. Dave Heineman has proposed a multi-faceted plan to cut spending, which includes across-the-board funding cuts for state agencies that is expected eliminate vacant positions and lead to some layoffs.

Controversy is growing over the governor's plan to tap commodity checkoff funds as part of his budget solution.

Three of five bills introduced in the Legislature today and two measures offered Wednesday were prompted by his proposal to transfer money from the corn, wheat, dry bean and grain sorghum cash funds into the state's general fund.

The governor has called for reducing the budgets of most state agencies and programs across the board; making specific cuts in other agencies and programs; taking back savings achieved by agencies last year; and tapping various cash funds.

The across-the-board cuts and cash fund transfers affect state agencies supported by commodity checkoff dollars for corn, dry beans, wheat and grain sorghum.

Sen. Annette Dubas of Fullerton and 13 cosponsors introduced a bill to block transfers from agricultural commodity checkoff funds to the state general fund. Other bills offer alternative sources of savings.

Sen. Tom Carlson of Holdrege, Agriculture Committee chairman, introduced one to eliminate a requirement to inspect dog and cat pet shops, kennels and breeders every two years and instead inspect them only in response to complaints. Carlson said the change could save $120,000 a year.

Carlson's other bill would change the use of some pesticide registration fees, for $30,000 in estimated savings.

Sen. Arnie Stuthman of Platte Center introduced a bill eliminating the sales tax exemption for certain types of community-based wind farms. The exemption has not been used yet and could save more than $3 million.

A third bill would eliminate the transfer of corn checkoff dollars to the Water Resources Cash Fund in 2013.

Lawmakers can introduce more bills Friday.

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