More state furloughs loom if federal shutdown continues

LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas’ chief fiscal officer said Thursday that thousands of state employees could be furloughed next week if the federal government shutdown is not over by the end of business Friday.

Richard Weiss, director of the state Department of Finance and Administration, said the pay period for state employees ends Friday and that if the shutdown does not end by then the state will no longer have money to cover the costs of many employees who also are paid with federal funds

“What we’re saying is, we’ve floated all this stuff the whole pay period thinking it would be short-lived,” Weiss said. “We don’t have any idea when it’s going to end, and as a precautionary thing we’re telling people paid with all or part of federal funds they’re going to have to indefinitely be furloughed.”

State Budget Administrator Brandon Sharp said officials would not know until Monday how many employees would be furloughed, but “we think it could impact as many as 4,000 employees.”

Gov. Mike Beebe, in a memo sent to state agency and department heads Wednesday, said the state “simply doesn’t have the resources to continue to cover the costs of federal programs and cannot put state program matching funds in jeopardy.”

Some 673 state employees were on furlough Thursday because of the shutdown.

Talking to reporters Thursday, Beebe said some state agencies have been using federal money carried over from the last fiscal year to meet federal obligations, “but as those are running out, then further action has got to be taken by those department heads because we don’t have the resources. We don’t have enough money in the world to continue to pay for every one of the federal obligations.”

Beebe said needs are being studied on case-by-case basis to see what can be done for those that are most critical.

“Let me give you an example: We’re trying to figure out what to do with the Fort Smith airport, because the National Guard provides the fire suppression and fire trucks for the Fort Smith airport — which is a requirement of the FAA, that you’ve got to have a fire department to have an airport,” the governor said. “Those people are federally paid, and if they’ve got to be laid off, you end up shutting down the whole Fort Smith airport.”

Beebe added, “I got to tell you, the longer this goes on, the more people get hurt. People are already hurting. it’s absolutely ridiculous what they’re doing in Washington, D.C.”