Without debt deal, 7,300 S.C. workers could face furloughs

The State (Columbia, S.C.)July 28, 2011 

State government will consider furloughing more than 7,000 state workers whose salaries are paid by the federal government if a deal to increase the federal debt ceiling is not reached by next week.

Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom, the state’s chief accountant, said Wednesday that he expects Washington lawmakers will work out an 11th hour, temporary solution on raising the debt ceiling by the Aug. 2 deadline.

“I’m hoping someone will blink,” Eckstrom said, adding the impasse is like a threatened federal shutdown in March that never materialized. “I think we’ll see a temporary solution.”

But if Congress does not reach a deal and the flow of federal dollars to South Carolina is disrupted temporarily, state agencies have identified roughly 7,300 state employees – 12.5 percent of state government’s 58,000 workers – whose positions are paid for by the federal government.

One possibility, if a debt deal is not reached by Aug. 2, Eckstrom said, is those workers could be put on unpaid leave temporarily. “We need to be prepared to furlough employees,” he said.

Another possibility is the state temporarily could pick up the tab for any federally paid workers whose jobs are essential to state government.

Because the state’s financial status is improving, it could tap several pots of money short term to keep essential workers on the job, Eckstrom said, including the state’s reserve accounts. State revenues are up almost 7 percent from last fiscal year, thanks to a nearly 9 percent increase in income tax collections, he said.

Those pots of money could tide South Carolina over for a bit.

But the state anticipates getting $8.4 billion in federal money this fiscal year to pay for a variety of programs – ranging from salaries at state agencies to K-12 education programs to Medicaid programs for the poor and disabled.

To read the complete story, visit www.thestate.com.

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