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Kai Ryssdal: Anybody who’s tried to renew a driver’s license lately knows only too well how a lot of states are dealing with their shrinking budgets. They are doing less with less. Outright cuts in services, or reduced hours at the DMV, or just plain cuts.
The state of Ohio has laid off more than 5,000 people since the recession started. Almost everybody who’s left has to take unpaid days off. It’s lousy for them. It’s lousy for the public, and it might not even fix what’s wrong. Karen Kasler reports.
Karen Kasler: Tim Roberts is a guard at the state women’s prison in Marysville. He’s one of more than 53,000 state workers who must take 10 days off a year without pay. The state calls them “cost-savings days.”
TIM ROBERTS: There’s some people who’ve enjoyed the cost savings days, there’s a few that would rather have the time than the money. But there are many of our people who are state of Ohio employees who live paycheck to paycheck. For those members, a cut of like two weeks of pay is a major hit on them. It’s a house payment, car payment.
The furloughs have also forced state agencies to rethink how they operate. The Department of Developmental Disabilities provides services for 80,000 Ohioans each year.
John Martin oversees that department.
JOHN MARTIN: It’s like having eight fewer employees. We’ve had to prioritize work more than we did before. We’ve had to let some kind of less essential things slide a little bit. We’re not always as quick at getting back on phone calls that come in with people asking questions.
But Ohio budget director Pari Sabety says the unpaid days off are critical to the state’s bottom line.
PARI SABETY: The savings we expect from that is about $140 million over the biennial budget, the next two-year budget for Ohio.
But there’s a problem ahead. Ohio’s budget deficit could top $8 billion dollars next year. Some say the savings from the furlough days just aren’t enough.
MATT MAYER: That’s really nibbling around the margins of our problem.
Matt Mayer directs the Buckeye Institute, a think tank that argues that state employees get salaries that are too big and benefits that are too generous.
MAYER: You gotta do more than furloughs. You’ve really got to look at the structural change of how we pay government workers in Ohio. This is a question governments all over the country are wrestling with.
Contracts with the state’s unionized workers were just renegotiated, so it’s unlikely the terms of those deals could be changed. Budget director Pari Sabety says all ideas are on the table. But there is little political support for asking state workers to take more cuts when they just agreed to a pay freeze along with those 10 unpaid days off a year.
In Columbus, I’m Karen Kasler for Marketplace.
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