Image: Tom McCabe of Metuchen, N.J.
Mel Evans  /  AP
Tom McCabe, of Metuchen, N.J., walks away from a closed Motor Vehicles Services Administration office in Trenton after trying to register some motor vehicles Monday.
updated 5/18/2009 6:52:16 PM ET 2009-05-18T22:52:16

Government furloughs idled New Jersey's motor vehicle offices Monday, leaving new drivers unable to pick up learner's permits, more than 2,400 employees with an unpaid day off and Tom McCabe resigned to making a second trip to get a title for his motorcycle.

"Why?" asked McCabe, tugging on the locked door of a Motor Vehicle Commission office after a 50-mile drive from Metuchen to Trenton.

"What can you do," he said, shrugging and conceding he'd just have to come back Tuesday. "It's a difficult time everywhere."

New Jersey is one of several budget-conscious states forcing workers to take unpaid leave amid the recession. Additional furlough days are planned here, but closing motor vehicle offices got people's attention in a state with one of the nation's longest average commuting times.

"Budget cuts? Oh, dang!" said Damany Carpenter, 24, who took time off work Monday and caught two buses from his home in Bloomfield to the Newark MVC office to take a test for his learner's permit.

"People need the MVC, you know — to go every day. They've got to cut other things besides the MVC."

An e-mail posted on MVC windows and doors in Trenton warned employees away.

"No MVC employee is allowed to enter the MVC offices on May 18, 2009 in as much as MVC employees are on a furlough day and not eligible to work under any circumstances," the e-mail read.

Gov. Jon S. Corzine said Monday that he regretted the inconvenience of closing state offices, but that services would diminish permanently if he is forced to close budget gaps through layoffs.

"Furloughs are better than layoffs," Corzine said Monday. "Yes, there will be inconveniences, but not nearly as great an inconvenience that would occur if there were layoffs."

Extraordinary actions
In Wisconsin, Gov. Jim Doyle is requiring 16 unpaid days off over two years. Michigan has scheduled six furlough days before Oct. 1, the end of the current fiscal year. In Georgia, a budget signed by Gov. Sonny Perdue last week almost certainly means additional furlough days for many state employees as individual agencies decide how to meet their budgets. About 25,000 state workers already have taken unpaid days off.

Corzine, a Democrat seeking re-election, has called for one furlough day a month from May through next June — 14 days overall. He has also called on the state worker unions to forgo the 3.5 percent negotiated pay increase they are due on July 1.

With a constitutional requirement to keep the budget in balance and tax collections off about 40 percent for the year that ends June 30, Corzine said he has no choice but to take extraordinary actions.

The unions have balked, and talks continue between the administration and the unions. Corzine has threatened to lay off as many as 7,000 state workers if he doesn't get $500 million in labor concessions.

'Nickel-and-diming'
About a dozen MVC employees protested outside offices in Newark, while about 30 Communications Workers of America members protested outside the Statehouse in Trenton.

One, Samuel Elder, an MVC customer service representative from Somerset, said the furloughs are unfair to low-income workers like himself.

"We're lower-level-paid state workers; they're nickel-and-diming us. There are higher-paid employees that can give up more and afford to give up more," he said.

Furloughs will affect many of New Jersey's roughly 80,000 state public employees, including executive and judicial branch workers who are not in a union. Some public safety workers will be exempt.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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