Monday, July 20, 2009

Joint Committees on Labor get update from DLIR

Rep. Karl Rhoads, Chair of the House Committee on Labor and Public Employment, questions Linda Smith, Governor's Policy Advisor and Darwin Ching, Director of Labor and Industrial Relations.

The Department of Labor and Industrial Relations (DLIR) provided an update this morning on the status of the Department's budget and how it will be affected by budget cuts and restrictions. Here are some main points:

*The Department is funded by general funds, but many employees are funded through federal program funds.The department's general fund portion of the budget in $15.8 million. Of that, they expect about $1.7 million to be restricted in the first year of the biennium.

*Chair Rhoads and Chair Dwight Takamine, Senate Labor Committee, were primarily interested in how these restrictions might impact services to the public, particularly services related to unemployment.

*The department could not immediately share that information with the joint committees, however, it will be provided as soon as possible.

*Director Ching clarified that the Unemployment Trust Fund, which currently has a balance of $280 million, will not be impacted by any proposed furlough plan. It is unknown at this time how the state layoff proposal would impact the fund. The department is contemplating reducing the number of weeks of unemployment benefits.

* Linda Smith said that employees with seniority would be able to bump other state employees so they are not sure how much would actually be saved at the end of the process. As such, they reserve the right to issue another round of layoffs if the savings are not sufficient.

*Chair Rhoads requested that the Governor not furlough employees within the department who are funded with federal funds. He indicated that it doesn't make sense, especially with our budget shortfall, to lose federal funds due to unnecessary furloughs. The Governor indicated in the past that if state workers are furloughed, their federally funded colleagues should be as well, even though there is no savings for the state budget.

*Senator Slom asked how the layoff list that was presented to the unions today was developed. Linda Smith replied that the potential layoff list was developed according to each department director's priorities, with the goal of minimizing impact of services to the public.

*Asked if the Governor is planning to appeal Judge Sakamoto's ruling on the Governor's authority to furlough, Linda Smith replied that they had not seen the Judge's written order yet and could not comment on an appeal until then.

*Chairs Rhoads and Takamine emphasized the need to keep the public informed on what services will be impacted by budget cuts, layoffs and/or furloughs. If programs that the public relies upon are terminated without much advance notice, such as Healthy Start, it creates an even greater hardship for families.