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Furloughs hit state lawmakers
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The two most powerful men in Georgia’s legislature announced Tuesday that state legislators will join other state employees and educators who will lose days of pay for the next six months.

Altogether, state legislators will lose six days of pay between now and July. The furloughs are an effort that Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Speaker of the House David Ralston called legislators’ attempt at doing their “small part to balance the budget.”

“As elected leaders, we must lead by example, and we are not immune to the revenue shortfalls that are affecting our state and our families,” the statement read.

But state lawmakers won’t get any reprieve from working through the state’s budget or transportation issues this legislative session. Instead of taking unpaid days off, lawmakers will work through the 40-day legislative session with one day’s pay deducted from each paycheck, said state Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville.

“We just take the cuts, and like everybody else... we work and it’s business as usual,” Rogers said. “... We need to do what we need to do under the conditions we’re in right now.”

The furloughs facing legislators until June 30 are the second round of furloughs state legislators have been subjected to this fiscal year. Between August and December of 2009, legislators lost one day of pay per month. Legislators earn $17,341 a year and also bring in $173 in per diems for days they work on state business.

The General Assembly has to agree to the furlough days because their salaries are controlled by state law.

Records show that the Senate’s highest-ranking Democrat, along with several of his colleagues and Democratic House members, did not take the first round of furlough days accepted by most of their colleagues.

Many in the General Assembly voted to give state employees unpaid days off to shore up Georgia’s sagging finances. When asked why they did not participate in the voluntary five furlough days between August and December, those lawmakers dismissed the issue as an honest error.

“I’m the victim of some kind of procedural thing,” said state Sen. Ed Harbison, who added that he assumed he was taking part in the furloughs, which he supports.

“There’s no way in the world you can ask people to take furlough days and not do so yourself. I promise you with all sincerity that it was some kind of mistake.”

The state’s fiscal office confirmed that Harbison and Sens. Gloria Butler, Lester Jackson, Valencia Seay and Senate Minority Leader Robert Brown, along with Reps. David Lucas and Earnest “Coach” Williams did not return the forms due Aug. 21 indicating whether they would participate in the furloughs.

GOP lawmakers took advantage of the blunder to tout their participation in the furloughs.

“I’m proud to serve with my fellow Republicans that continue to put the state’s needs before their own and who serve Georgians with core conservative values of less spending and less government,” Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers said.

Butler said on Tuesday that there “might have been some miscommunication” regarding last year’s furlough days, but that she would participate in the upcoming unpaid leave.

Seay said her missed furlough days were an “oversight” that took place after the legislative session. When asked if she recalled receiving the form, Seay shrugged her shoulders and said, “I don’t even recall.”

Seay said the forms for the upcoming furlough days have already been signed and submitted.

In fiscal year 2009, which ended June 30, legislators cut $2.7 million of funds allocated for the General Assembly, limiting capital improvements, supply and equipment purchases, according to the legislative fiscal office. The 2010 budget had another 8 percent reduction in the General Assembly budget, according to Cagle and Ralston’s statement.

Employees of state agencies have taken anywhere between three and 12 furlough days.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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