July 14, 2003 – Gov. Charles W. Turnbull has authorized the heads of all government departments to begin developing plans to furlough government employees in accordance with union contracts in the event that the Legislature fails to pass a bill authorizing the government to borrow $235 million.
In a two-page release apparently dictated Monday from his bed at Roy L. Schneider Hospital and sent from Government House about 5 p.m., Turnbull called the Senate Rules Committee's failure on Friday to pass the proposal on to the full Senate for a vote "disappointing."
(See "Rules deadlocks, fails to approve bond bill".)
In Monday's strongly worded statement, Turnbull said: "Let me make this absolutely clear. Without a substantial infusion of cash, there is no alternative but to furlough government workers, eliminate essential services provided to the public, and defer indefinitely payments to vendors and payment of income-tax refunds."
During a cabinet meeting on Friday, the governor said, he "authorized the development of contingency plans" for layoffs.
Turnbull had denied until April 24 that his administration was facing anything more serious than a temporary cash-flow problem, despite evidence to the contrary, including a remark by Finance Commissioner Bernice Turnbull at a Senate indoctrination in December that the government was facing a full-blown financial crisis.
Prior to last November's elections, raises and new contracts for government workers flowed freely. But the flow came to an abrupt halt on April 24 when Turnbull declared the government was facing bankruptcy. (See "Cash flow problem is a fiscal crisis after all" .)
On Monday, the governor painted a picture of budget cuts which would dramatically affect "vital services provided to our senior citizens, physically challenged, children and ordinary residents," as well as payless paydays, unless the Legislature does the "responsible thing" in passing his borrowing bill.
But when all 15 members of the Senate asked the governor to roll back the substantial pay increases he gave to exempt employees last year, Turnbull offered only cuts of 2 percent to 10 percent, and only for six months. He said the savings to the government, which according to administration financial officials is facing a $152 million deficit for Fiscal Year 2003, will be about $900,000.
The raises last year that he proposed averaged 24.19 percent for upper-level employees and 20.18 percent for mid-level employees. The additional cost to taxpayers came to about $7.1 million a year.
Turnbull has adamantly rejected both layoffs and a shortened work week as means of reducing the territory's $14 million biweekly payroll.
He noted in Monday's statement that "we have avoided laying off government workers because we have deferred the payment of income-tax returns and the paying of vendors." But, he said, "This cannot be allowed to continue … I will not condone forcing taxpayers and business to bear the burden of keeping this government afloat at their own expense."
If the Senate fails to approve his massive borrowing bill, he said, "many lives in our small community will be negatively affected and the ramification of having payless paydays can have a far-reaching negative impact throughout the entire community." He added: "We must not allow that to happen."
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