Arkansas: Nearly 1,000 Workers Furloughed In Shutdown

LITTLE ROCK - Arkansas agencies furloughed nearly 1,000 employees Tuesday after Congress failed to adopt a spending plan for a new fiscal year, resulting in a partial shutdown of the federal government, and state budget officials warned that the number of workers temporarily off the job could rise if the shutdown continues.

Some positions within Arkansas state government are paid for through an intertwining of state and federal funds. Gov. Mike Beebe had warned on Monday that up to 2,000 state workers could be furloughed because of the Washington funding stalemate, but Tuesday afternoon state budget officials said the number of workers temporarily let go was about half that.

The number of those let go ranged from 564 at the Military Department to one at the Crowley's Ridge Technical Institute. The state Department of Human Services reported 202 furloughs and the Health Department 12.

The partial government shutdown had an impact at several federal facilities in Arkansas, including the Hot Springs National Park, the Fort Smith National Historic Site, the Buffalo National River and the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock. Would-be guests were encouraged to call ahead before visiting any facility with operations linked to federal funds.

Richard Weiss, the director of the state Department of Finance and Administration, warned that the number of furloughs could rise if a spending outline wasn't approved soon.

"The information from the feds is so spotty to all these agencies that it is going to be a changing situation," Weiss said. Each agency had to determine what they could afford.

"Anything above that, you've got to let people go," Weiss said.

He said a more-complete illustration of the impact wouldn't be known until Oct. 11, when federal money is due to help agencies with their payroll.

The number of furloughed employees was based on a survey of each agency head, Weiss said.

"We've made the agency directors responsible for this," Weiss said. "There's no way we can wave a magic wand and solve this."

Weiss has directed the Arkansas budget office since 1994, the year before the federal government shut down twice. Hundreds of state workers were furloughed, and many federal facilities closed, including hunting areas in the prime of duck season. Then-Gov. Jim Guy Tucker used state money to reopen a pair of wildlife refuges.

In the shutdowns over the winter of 1995-96, the state had warned of 2,400 furloughs, but many agencies held off making drastic cuts until well after the impasses began.

Meanwhile, Sen. Mark Pryor and Rep. Tom Cotton sparred Tuesday on who is to blame for the partial shutdown.

Pryor's re-election campaign said Cotton has been a "cheerleader" for shutting down the government in an effort to stop provisions of the new federal health care act from taking effect. Cotton, who is seeking Pryor's Senate seat, said Democrats are behind the shutdown because of their dedication to the nation's new health care law.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten, broadcast or distributed.)