Most legislative staffers will be put on furlough if their bosses can’t agree on a budget by July 1

Employees of the Alaska Legislature got an email this morning notifying them they’d be placed on furlough if their bosses can’t pass a budget by July 1.

“If there is not an operating budget by July 1, 2017, employees will be placed on furlough and only employees necessary for passing a budget will be required to report to work,” said an email from Legislative Affairs Agency Executive Director Pam Varni.

READ (PDF): Furlough notice for Legislative employees on June 15, 2017

Just who’s necessary to passing the budget is left largely up to the legislators themselves. Those who are kept on aren’t guaranteed full-time employment, either, as that matter is also left up to legislators.

The email explains that all staff be able to maintain health insurance for the month of July because of the furlough.

It’s better treatment than most unionized Alaska state employees will get under the shutdown. Those employees will be laid off, which carries tougher penalties than a furlough.

Unionized state employees will have to cash out their leave and other accounts. Employees who have accrued flex time, mostly positions that are required to work more than 45 hours in a week, will lose it altogether.

The Legislature doesn’t have direct say over the treatment of unionized employees in the shutdown as most of that is dictated by existing contracts, but blame for a shutdown rests squarely with the Legislature.

A union rep said that flex time accounts in most cases is around 40 hours of flex time, but some that stand to lose up to 200 hours of flex time.

In 2015, the unions negotiated agreements that would have placed employees into furlough. No such agreements have been inked, yet.

State hurtling toward shutdown

The week started with hope the Legislature could get its act together and pass a budget by the end of the special session on Friday. Work was coming along on the operating budget in conference committee, and the House got to work on a capital budget. The comprehensive fiscal plan was appearing less and less likely to get passed, but at least there’d be a budget.

But sometime early in the week the House had a change of heart.

Yesterday, the House adopted an amendment to the capital budget to fully fund this year’s permanent fund dividend. It’s likely a bit of posturing over the stalemate over oil and gas taxes with the Senate, but throws a wrench into any hopes to have a budget by Friday. Not only did the House likely can any carefully negotiated work with the Senate over the capital budget, but it also has painted itself into another corner.

Just like its flat refusal of Gov. Bill Walker’s fiscal plan, the House has now very publicly staked out a position in support of a full $2,200-plus PFD that will be politically difficult to retreat from.

Walker will likely veto the bigger dividend anyways in hopes to salvage the state’s fiscal house, and if the Legislature reaches Friday without a budget, he’s likely to call them back on Saturday to keep working.

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