Mo. lawmakers balk at canceling state holidays -

Mo. lawmakers balk at canceling state holidays

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Missouri state employees will still have days off for the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Harry Truman, but they will have to be at work the day after Thanksgiving.
Cash-strapped and facing the possibility of greater budget problems next year, Gov. Jay Nixon had called for canceling state holidays honoring the two presidents and ending the traditional day off governors had granted after Thanksgiving.
But the Missouri House refused to approve the legislation needed to cancel the presidential holidays before the session ended Friday. Nixon said he plans to keep state government open after Thanksgiving and warned that preserving the other holidays will force deeper state budget cuts.
"Clearly, we will get rid of the Friday after Thanksgiving," he said. "People, I think, can take a vacation day."
House Minority Leader Paul LeVota, who represents the city where Truman lived, said Democrats had been divided on whether to cut holidays. State workers, meanwhile, fired of dozens of e-mails to the governor objecting to eliminating the holidays and suggesting alternate cost-cutting moves.
"I personally had a little hard time getting rid of Harry Truman's holiday -- I'm from Independence, Missouri." LeVota said. "We had some diverse views on that. What we continue to try to say is, we need to look at things in a balanced approach."
Government workers around the country have shared in their states' budgetary pain, facing layoffs and furloughs.
California got rid of Lincoln's Birthday and Columbus Day as state holidays last year. To help close its budget deficit, New Jersey eliminated Lincoln's Birthday as a holiday, and then-Gov. Jon Corzine stopped giving state workers off the day after Thanksgiving. Utah also cut out Columbus Day.
State workers nationwide get an average of 11 paid vacation days per year. The private sector, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, averages eight days.
Missouri budget officials estimate that canceling the extra days off would save the state about $1.5 million per holiday. The savings would come primarily because some employees who still must work on holidays -- such as prison guards -- get to choose whether to claim extra time off or accept holiday bonus pay. The savings also factor in the fuel and utilities needed for state government to operate.
The Missouri Corrections Officers Association estimates the extra holiday pay amounts to about $100 per worker per shift. About 80 percent of the corrections officers working on holidays take the money and the rest take compensatory time off.
But for the thinning ranks of Missouri state workers, the prospect of forfeiting holidays was another blow.
The average wage for the state work force is among the lowest in the country, vehicle mileage reimbursement has been cut twice and the state has suspended matching contributions into employees' deferred compensation plans. The state also has eliminated more than 2,000 government positions over two years.
State workers who protested the elimination of the holidays said the days off are important benefits that offset low wages. Others suggested cutting the bonus pay option for working on a holiday, and several people asked that Columbus Day be axed instead of the day after Thanksgiving.
Rachel Wells, a caseworker in southwest Missouri for the Family Support Division, said she sent her e-mail to the governor because she was frustrated and wanted to make sure Nixon and his advisers knew how their decision would affect individual workers.
"I don't do this job to get rich. I do this job to help people," Wells said. "I do this job because I enjoy it, because I think I'm good at it, and it has great benefits. It's sad to see those benefits slip away."
   (Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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