Gov. Jared Polis announced Tuesday that he will order most of Colorado’s 30,000 government employees to take an unpaid furlough to help address the state’s budget crunch.
The move — expected to be formalized in an executive order — applies to executive branch employees making more than $50,000 a year and is tiered to lessen the impact on lower-wage workers and government services.
“Absolutely it’s a time for belt-tightening,” Polis said. He called the tiered approach the “compassionate way to do a furlough.”
The possibility of furloughs loomed for months after Colorado lawmakers cut the state personnel budget by $58 million, or 5%, to help close a $3 billion budget shortfall after the coronavirus led to a temporary economic shutdown.
But the flexibility lawmakers gave the Polis administration left a question about whether the furloughs were necessary or designed to open room for spending elsewhere in the budget. Most state agencies expected to find the personnel savings within the existing budget or by not filling vacant positions. And a new economic forecast presented to lawmakers Friday found a rosier state revenue picture and a smaller projected deficit for the coming fiscal year.
Even though the state is not seeing “the worst-case scenario that people were worried about,” Polis said the state is looking at a “very tough budget year, this year and next year” and needed to save money.
The administration worked on the furloughs with Colorado WINS, the state employee union recently granted collective bargaining rights under a new law. Hilary Glasgow, the union’s executive director, said the state “wouldn’t go to furloughs if there was a way around them.”
“The need for public services is up while the funding for public services is down,” she said, citing the pandemic and related economic impacts. “The need to mitigate that is going to continue to be very hard.”
Staff writer Jesse Paul contributed to this report.Read more at The Colorado SunThe Colorado Sun is a reader-supported, journalist-owned news outlet exploring issues of statewide interest. Sign up for a newsletter and read more at coloradosun.com.