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Christmas miracle! In Kansas, taxpayer money flows even when state workers stay home

By   /   December 20, 2012  /   No Comments

By Gene Meyer | Kansas Reporter

SNOW JOBS: Emergency weather declarations like one Thursday cost Kansas money, though how much is hard to tell.

FAIRWAY – Kansas government burns through more than $40 million a day when it’s working.

That’s just a back-of-the-envelope calculation — more than $14 billion in state taxes, federal aid and other revenue divided by 365 days a year.

What about when the government isn’t working? Spending appears to continue, though that was hard to pin down Thursday.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback ordered non-essential state employees in Topeka and Shawnee County not to come to work until 10 a.m. Thursday amid northeast Kansas’ first significant snowstorm in two years.

No one could say immediately how many state employees were covered, because agencies outside Topeka in the storm were allowed to choose whether to follow suit too. In any case, the state’s payroll computers and employee websites dutifully recorded the official declaration of inclement weather leave from 5:45 a.m. to 10 a.m.

Guess what that cost Kansas. Really, you have to guess. Neither the state Department of Administration nor experts outside state government could say Thursday.

“We are unable to determine the cost of opening state offices 2 hours late today,” said Sherriene Jones-Sontag, the administration’s communications director. “There were many people who came into work at the regular time this morning, additionally salaried state employees are still expected to do the same amount of work for the same amount of pay.”

“Our biggest consideration when closing state offices is the safety of the public and our employees,” she said.

Some studies by the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics suggest the sliver of a snow day will cost government more than it will private businesses that made the same choice. BLS found in studies two years ago that awarding paid leave to public employees cost about $3.12 an hour compared to $1.80 in the private sector. That’s partly because teachers and other part-year workers help skew the averages.

So what might Kansas’ brief break cost?

“Probably too much, but there is no way we can make the calculation,” said Bob Williams, president of State Budget Solutions, an online site that x-rays government spending.“Essential stuff gets done in these situations, but it’s the rest of the stuff that costs too much.”

Grover Norquist’s tax hawks at Americans for Tax Reform in Washington declined to guess too. AFP calculates an annual Cost of Government Day Index, showing when in the year taxpayers theoretically have covered their state’s government costs. Kansas crosses that tape Aug. 9 and is in a four way tie for 30th on the list. Only 19 states finish sooner.

“But that doesn’t help here,” said Mattie Duppler, the group’s budget and regulatory policy director.  “(The index) is based on the size of government – it takes into account how many people the state employs and the costs that workforce entails.´

Contact Gene Meyer at gene.meyer@kansaswatchdog.org

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