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Colorado workers to take more furloughs

Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter ordered state employees to take four more unpaid furlough days in an effort to save money.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter ordered state employees to take four more unpaid furlough days in an effort to save money as he prepared to tell lawmakers on Wednesday how he plans to cut an additional $280 million by next June.

The new furlough days were in addition to the four that workers already are taking.

Ritter said Tuesday that the eight closure days will save about $27.2 million in the 2009-10 fiscal year, which started July 1 and ends June 30.

Sen. Moe Keller, D-Wheat Ridge, who heads the Joint Budget Committee, said she's expecting more bad news when the governor's office briefs the committee on the new cuts that are in store.

"I know that Medicaid rolls are up, and instead of cutting the $240 million we expected in September, it will be closer to $280 million. I'm guessing we're going to cut higher education some more, and now the governor has announced four more furlough days. That hurts," she said.

Keller said even if the recession ends, it will be at least another year before state revenues rebound.

Donald Gustin, a state transportation worker and state employees union member, wasn't happy about being told to take more unpaid furlough days.

"These furloughs are program cuts by another name. We were hoping instead that state agencies would follow the governor's call to find additional savings in places like consulting contracts without having to curtail important front line services that Coloradans rely on. I think this underscores how little room there is to solve the budget crisis by slashing services," he said.

Ritter said the global economic downturn is continuing to impact state government. Over the past year, the recession has forced state government to close a $1.8 billion budget shortfall.

"Businesses and families all across Colorado are tightening their belts and making tough decisions. So is state government," Ritter said.

Around 15,500 employees, about half the state's work force, have been furloughed on each of two furlough days taken so far this year. Two more are scheduled for Nov. 27 and Dec. 31. The new days, all Fridays, will be Jan. 15, Feb. 12, April 2 and May 28.

Not all workers are subject to furloughs. Those who have been exempted include troopers patrolling the state's highways and labor department employees who pay unemployment benefits.