State employees get a day off — without pay

Posted July 05, 2009, at 8:46 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — No walk-in service at motor vehicle offices. No tours of the State House, and the nearby state library and museum won’t be open.

As Maine state government moves into a new budget cycle, state offices and agencies that closed Friday to mark the Fourth of July holiday remain closed Monday for the first of 20 shutdown days scheduled over the next two years.

The spending blueprint approved by Gov. John Baldacci and the Legislature for fiscal years 2010 and 2011 requires all executive branch state departments, agencies and offices — except for exceptions — to be closed for 10 days in each of the two years.

The Legislature is following suit.

Maine employees not required to work because their departments, agencies and offices are closed must take the days off without pay, saving the state about $14 million.

The $5.8 billion general fund budget, which covers the two-year period that started July 1, also freezes state employee merit and longevity pay for additional savings of nearly $12 million. And it requires state workers to begin making contributions toward their health insurance.

Shutdown exceptions relate mostly to public health and safety, said Commissioner Ryan Low of the Department of Administrative & Financial Services. State troopers and correctional officers will be at work Monday, although staffing rosters will resemble those for a regular holiday, and some emergency units will be on call. Additionally, state hospital workers will be at their posts.

The state’s Vacationland brand is also being protected.

Ferries will operate, game wardens and marine patrols will be out, Maine’s state parks and historic sites will remain open and staffed, and forest rangers will be on duty.

“There are some services that we provide that are critical to the Maine economy,” Commissioner Patrick McGowan of the Maine Department of Conservation said.

State parks and historic sites draw more than 2 million visitors.

Low estimated that shutdown exemptions would apply to “a couple of thousand” within the state’s 14,000-member work force, but said not all those would work every shutdown day.

Baldacci’s Cabinet is covered.

“All commissioners are going to be taking the day off, or let me rephrase that, will not be getting paid,” Low said.

Even the governor isn’t immune.

“He’s nonessential,” Low said in answer to an Associated Press question. (Low added that he might best be described as the “former” commissioner of administration and finance if the governor reads that description online or in a newspaper.)

Low said state officials opted for an across-the-board shutdown instead of flexible furlough days — allowing workers to choose their days — because that process was judged to be too unwieldy to administer under the current circumstances.

Despite state government’s general shutdown Monday, Low said the state Labor Department would process unemployment checks and red tide monitoring would continue.

Business in Maine courts will be limited.

Cases that would be handled include emergency petitions presented by a state agency such as a request for a preliminary protection order and in-custody arraignments and juvenile detention hearings, according to Mary Ann Lynch, director of court information.

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