Seven Georgia legislators did not take any of the five furlough days that were ordered for General Assembly members last year, according to records obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
And they’re facing even more furlough days this year: House and Senate leaders on Tuesday asked that all 236 legislators give up six more days of pay by June.
Four of the five senators who skipped the furloughs in 2009 said they were confused by the process governing the way lawmakers take such days, and the two House members said they had no intention of taking them. All seven are Democrats.
Rep. David Lucas of Macon and Rep. Earnest “Coach” Williams of Avondale Estates said they oppose the furloughs on principle. Both said the leadership ordered the days without consulting members, who ran for the office with the expectation they would be paid a certain salary.
“If the general public wants to get rid of David Lucas for that, then fine,” said Lucas.
Legislators are paid $17,342 a year; 11 unpaid days would cost the average rank-and-file member about $725 each.
Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House Speaker David Ralston said in a joint statement that updated estimates that state revenues will be down $1.2 billion for the fiscal year ending June 30 led to their call Tuesday for more voluntary furlough days for lawmakers.
“As elected leaders, we must lead by example,” the joint statement said. “We are not immune to the revenue shortfalls that are affecting our state and our families.”
Ralston said the extra furlough days might only save a small amount of money. But he said they’re meant to send a message to teachers and other state employees, most of whom are being furloughed between three and 12 days thisfiscal year.
“We understand what we’re asking others to do,” the speaker said.
Robyn Underwood, legislative fiscal officer, said the 11 furlough days will save the state about $170,000.
Four of the senators — Valencia Seay of Riverdale, Minority Leader Robert Brown of Macon, Lester Jackson of Savannah and Gloria Butler of Stone Mountain —said they intended to take the furlough days.
They said that in an “oversight” they had not filed the proper paperwork to have the money deducted from their checks.
“Their perception was that it was automatic,” said Benjamin F. George, Brown’s chief of staff. “It was not that they objected to it. This is nothing that any of them would have wanted to happen.”
The fifth senator, Ed Harbison of Columbus, said he had asked to take the furlough days and didn’t know until Tuesday that it hadn’t happened. He said he has asked that money be taken from his paychecks two days a month until he’s caught up.
Underwood confirmed that Harbison made that request, and she said she plans to offer to do the same for other legislators who did not — but want to — take all 11 furlough days.
Senators had to sign a form to take part in the furlough, while House members had to submit a letter to opt out, Underwood said.
Ralston said he was not speaker when the first furloughs were ordered but hopes that he’ll see “100 percent compliance” with his request that legislators take another six days without pay.
“Under existing law, we can’t force legislators to take this,” the speaker said. “But I would hope everyone would.”
Ralston said he expects legislation to pass during the current General Assembly that would require lawmakers to abide by any furlough orders.
On Jan. 15, Gov. Sonny Perdue announced plans to furlough 250,000 teachers and state employees for three more days without pay to make up for a state revenue stream that slowed to a trickle over the past 13 months.
The 2009-10 school year opened for most of the state’s teachers with news that they would be furloughed three days .
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