Could we have “smart furloughs”?

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Should state employees who are paid by private or federal funds be required to take a furlough like everybody else in state government? Many UW employees, especially scientific researchers who are paid largely by federal grant money, feel the furlough is unjust. What does happen to those federal dollars they don’t collect on those days? Does the state siphon it off?

Sifting and Winnowing discusses “Smart Furloughs,” proposed by State Rep. Kelda Helen Roys, which would exempt state employees who are paid with state AND federal funds from the mandatory vacations.

Roys’ proposal seems to big. Would it require any employee who receives ANY federal money from taking the furlough? There’s so much federal money in all aspects of state government (especially education) that thousands of employees could find ways to avoid the furloughs.

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4 Responses to “Could we have “smart furloughs”?”

  1. SaW Says:

    I think a couple of clarifications are in order concerning the issue addressed by Roys’ proposal:

    As things currently stand, those employees whose salaries are paid by non-University funds — e.g., federal research grants, endowments, etc. — are still required to take the furlough days. This includes those employees for which not a single dollar comes from the state of Wisconsin budget. Therefore, from a budget standpoint, requiring those employees to take unpaid furlough days does absolutely nothing to help the state deficit. Even worse, it means that salary money that (a) would go into the Wisconsin economy and (b) generate income tax revenue is reduced, with no compensating benefit to the state

    From administrative point of view, this makes sense, because it would be difficult to disentangle every employee’s funding source and pro-rate the furloughs accordingly. For example, let’s say a faculty member pays 25% of their calendar year salary from federal grants, the rest coming from the University. Ideally, that faculty member would have to take only six furlough days in the calendar year rather than the eight required of those whose income is entirely paid by the State. But making these calculations for every employee could be very difficult, so the blanket approach was used instead. Another reason might be that it “feels” unfair if two employees working side by side, one 100% on state funds and the other 100% on an endowment or federal funds are treated differently.

    As I understand it, Roys’ proposal seeks to move closer to the first approach despite the logistical issues. It would be fiscally more logical at the very least.

    On a side note, S&W wishes it could take credit for the article “Smart Furlough”, but all we did is post a link to an article appearing on the PROFS website, a completely unrelated organization.

  2. SaW Says:

    Forgot to answer this question: “What does happen to those federal dollars they don’t collect on those days? Does the state siphon it off?”

    Basically the money just doesn’t get spent, or it gets spent (eventually) on something else. The state doesn’t siphon it off, so the unspent salary money doesn’t benefit anyone except (sort of) the federal government, which would probably prefer that it be spent on the research for which it was allocated in the first place.

  3. Joe Salmons Says:

    Just a follow-up on SaW’s good comments here. The bill would actually simply give agencies the FLEXIBILITY to not furlough employees when the furlough would not save the state money. It does not ‘require’ anything in that sense and the flexibility would be only for federal, not state, money.

    In any number of cases, people are being paid on federal grants that cannot be ‘rolled over’ to next year, but are a kind of ‘spend it or lose it’ funding. In those cases, we are simply giving back money that our faculty and staff have gotten through highly competitive grant processes AND we’re losing staff time (it’s mostly staff not faculty here) and they are losing pay and the state is losing taxes on that.

  4. JmSR Says:

    I’m gonna tell ’em right now: ain’t gonna happen.

    Smart Furloughs mean that the government wold carve out an exemption for SEG (segregated) funded staff whose money comes from federal funds. Why is that kind of SEG money the only kind that should be considered? There ar eentire SEG funded agencies. What about any program that generates revenue for itself (such as DNR or DOT funded positions through licenses)? What about GPR positions that earn money such as state revenue auditors? And what about those tuition payments that students have been making?

    Doyle did this to everybody… any picking and choosing would have left him with nothing at all. And that would have been a smart furlough. As it is, hope that someone who respects the work of government employees is elected governor if you want University positions not to be cut.

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