April 14, 2010

Montgomery furlough proposal spurs equity debate among county employees

Montgomery County's dimming fiscal picture is sharpening a debate over equity among its employees, and some officials are pushing what they call a more progressive approach to managing cutbacks. As part of his $4.3 billion budget proposal last month, County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) proposed 10 forced days off for thousands of county employees, amounting to a 3.8 percent salary cut. Such furloughs have become a common tactic from California to Prince George's County as the recession has battered budgets. But until this year, Leggett had resisted.

Now, among the questions bubbling up in the county are these: Is it fair that Jocelyn Smith-Joseph, a coordinator for the disabled who made $47,028 last year, would be forced to take the same number of furlough days as Carla Reid, who received $194,537 as Montgomery's head of permitting services? And is it right -- not to mention affordable, given grim new figures released Tuesday -- that teachers, uniformed public safety workers and many other county employees are exempt from furloughs?

Officials said Tuesday that income-tax revenue is down sharply again, opening a new $44 million hole in the budget and adding $100 million to the budget gap for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. That comes on top of what seems like a modest $24 million drop in revenue announced last week that had spooked officials. Leggett said he recommended furloughs for next year's budget because the savings would help make up for revenue reductions that forced him to propose the county's first overall cut in spending in more than 40 years. His plan, which officials said furloughs about 6,000 employees, would save $15 million.

But members of the County Council are considering shaking up that model. An idea advanced by member George L. Leventhal (D-At Large) and others would be to make the furloughs more "progressive." SOURCE: Washington Post

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