Half Of State Workers On Furlough Tuesday

State Troopers, Labor Department Workers Still Working

If you want a driver's license, a copy of an accident report or a tour of the state Capitol on Tuesday, you're out of luck.

Some 15,500 state workers are taking their first of four unpaid days off because of budget cuts.

But about half of the state's approximately 29,000 employees will still be on the job. That includes labor department employees who will be paying unemployment benefits, state troopers who will be patrolling Colorado highways and State Patrol dispatchers.

"The doors will be closed but there will be people working inside in a lot of our buildings and troopers on our highways," said Lance Clem, spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety.

State parks, campgrounds and marinas will be open, but visitors centers will be closed. Courts will also be open as normal, as will the offices of the state attorney general and secretary of state.

Legislative staffers will also be on the job although tours of the state Capitol are canceled and the building won't be open to the public.

Gov. Bill Ritter ordered four furlough days because of a $26 million cut in payroll and expenses for all departments approved by state lawmakers before they adjourned in May. That cut was made even before lawmakers learned that tax revenues had fallen off even more steeply than expected, forcing Ritter to come up with another $320 million in budget cuts.

Lawmakers left it up to Ritter as well as the departments he doesn't control, including the judicial branch, secretary of state and attorney general, to decide exactly how to save the $26 million.

Of that $26 million, $16 million comes from the part of the budget paid for with regular tax dollars. So far, the four furlough days will save about $13 million but only $6.5 million of that comes from the portion of the budget where the savings are needed the most -- the part for with scarce tax dollars.

Ritter's spokesman Evan Dreyer said agencies will have to come up with other ways to save money, including not filling vacancies.

Some are already doing that. The secretary of state's office, which is funded by business filing fees and federal election funds, returned $2.7 million to the state's coffers by not filing positions and from other savings, spokesman Rich Coolidge said.

Legislative leaders have come up with plans to cut a total of $1 million but are leaving the decision about whether to furlough workers or just let positions go unfilled up to department heads and both political parties in the House and Senate.

Workers in some agencies under Ritter's direction, such as the Colorado Division of Wildlife, are still being furloughed even though they are paid for with fees rather than tax dollars and won't help plug the shortfall in the regular state budget.

However, Theo Stein, a spokesman for the Department of Natural Resources -- which includes state parks and the wildlife division -- said all department workers are being furloughed to be fair and to avoid hurting employee morale.

With hunting season under way, some Division of Wildlife officers will be working Tuesday but Stein declined to say how many and where because he said he didn't want to compromise their law enforcement work. However, he said if more help is needed due to emergencies -- such as a rush of bear problems -- officers who are on furlough will be called back to work.

Wildlife officers and park workers who work on Tuesday will take their furlough on a different day.

Even when the state's 56 driver's license offices reopen on Wednesday, things won't be back to normal right away.

Under federal labor laws, employees who are being furloughed must be treated as hourly workers rather than salaried workers during that week to make sure they're not forced to do the same amount of work in fewer days. So to avoid paying them overtime and undo the savings from the furlough, driver's license bureaus plan to close early the rest of the week to make sure they are able to close by 5 p.m., Department of Revenue spokesman Mark Couch said.

He said closures will vary depending on how many customers there are but he suggested that people should arrive at offices before 4 p.m. to make sure they are served.

Ritter, meanwhile, will still be working on Tuesday but he has promised to give back the equivalent of four days' of his pay to the state treasury -- $1,250.

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