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Corzine considers 12-day state furlough

March 2, 2009 5:09:16 PM PST
New Jersey Gov. Jon S. Corzine is considering a budget that would force state workers to take 12 days off without pay, according to two state officials who have been briefed on the proposal that is taking shape. The furloughs - one day a month for 12 months starting in July - would pare about $210 million from the roughly $29 billion spending plan Corzine will present to the Legislature next Tuesday, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the budget.

If the furloughs are applied across-the-board, some 80,000 state workers, including state police and corrections officers, would be forced to take the days off.

David Jones, president of the State Troopers Fraternal Association, said the union would continue working with the administration and lawmakers "to find a solution to these funding issues and preserve public safety."

New Jersey's Constitution requires the budget be kept in balance. The state faces a budget shortfall approaching $7 billion for the next fiscal year. Federal stimulus money could lessen the budget gap by $1 billion or more.

The Democratic governor also is considering a wage freeze for the fiscal year that starts July 1. Nonunion employees already had their wages frozen. Union workers are due to receive a 3.5 percent wage increase next year, according to their current contract.

Corzine and the unions disagree over whether the governor has the authority to order furloughs and wage freezes.

Senate Majority Leader Steve Sweeney, a Democrat, said the state worker contract can be reopened in a financial emergency like the one New Jersey faces.

Tax collections have fallen off sharply in recent months. Revenue is down in all tax categories, including income, sales and corporate business taxes.

The governor cannot impose a unilateral pay cut by furloughing state workers or freezing their salaries, no matter how dire the economy, said Hetty Rosenstein, state director of the Communications Workers of America. The union represents about 42,000 state employees and is the largest state-worker union in New Jersey.

Next year's furloughs come on top of two furlough days Corzine has imposed this spring that will save an estimated $35 million. He has ordered state workers to take an unpaid day off in May and another day in June to help keep this year's budget in balance.

Corzine spokesman Robert Corrales said all options remain on the table in the deepening economic recession. Corzine has declined to discuss specifics of the proposal ahead of his March 10 budget address.

State officials said other options for next year's budget include slashing property tax rebates to all but senior citizens, the disabled and low-income residents; cutting municipal aid; and imposing additional taxes on the wealthy and on goods like liquor and cigarettes. No final decisions have been made.


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