ATLANTA -- Unions representing Georgia workers have filed suit to stop Gov. Zell Miller from imposing furloughs that would trim about $100 million a year from state spending.
In announcing the furloughs earlier this month, Gov. Miller said that one-day-a-month layoffs of all state workers would help Georgia meet a budget deficit for fiscal 1992 that he said could reach $400 million.
At the same time, the governor also froze all new spending and hiring and postponed implementation of new programs for fiscal 1992, which began July 1.
The furloughs were implemented last week and will result in a 5% reduction in employee paychecks, saving the state about $8 million a month.
Two unions representing state workers -- the 5,400 member Georgia State Employees Union and the 36,000 member Georgia Association of Educators -- filed class action suits Monday in Fulton County Superior Court seeking to halt the furloughs until the state legislature meets in special session next month to consider spending cuts.
The suit charges that Gov. Miller usurped the powers of the legislature and the Board of Regents in ordering the layoffs.
Superior court Judge Philip F. Etheridge has scheduled a hearing for today.
"If the governor wishes to amend the budget plan, he must seek, and the General Assembly must adopt, amendments to the appropriations act," the lawsuit says.
Pete Lee, a spokesman for the governor, said the Gov. Miller declined comment yesterday on the lawsuit. "The furloughs are continuing," he said.
Meanwhile, the state legislature's chief budget officer yesterday challenged the governor's estimate of a deficit of up to $400 million, suggesting that the imbalance between anticipated spending and revenue is actually at least $440 million.
Pete Hackney said that he expects the state to collect only $7.63 billion in fiscal 1992, or $270 million less than had been expected. In addition, he said the state much appropriate an extra $170 million this fiscal year to reimburse itself for funds borrowed to balance its budget at the close of fiscal 1991.
The $170 million includes $100 million in surpluses that had been maintained for special uses, such as the state's contribution to Medicaid. In addition, $70 million in extra funds must be appropriated to cover extra spending in the 1991 fiscal year not covered in the original budget for that year.
Mr. Lee said Gov. Miller now estimates that the deficit is closer to $400 million. "It is really hard to predict exactly what the number is at this point," he added.
When legislators meet next month to consider solutions to the state's latest fiscal crisis, Mr. Hackney predicted that all areas of state spending except education will be considered for potential cuts.
"We will be looking in particular at reductions in the work force and drastic reductions in equipment purchases," he said.
Fitch and Moody's Investors Service rate Georgia's $2 billion of general obligation debt at triple-A. Standard & Poor's Corp. rates Georgia's GOs AA-plus.