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Judge rules job rights fell to Arizona budget crisis

PHOENIX — A court ruling says Arizona’s budget crisis warranted state officials’ decision to skip normally required protections for state employees targeted for layoffs.

The ruling by Judge Andrew Klein of Maricopa County Superior Court denied a union’s request for a preliminary injunction against the state in connection with more than 1,000 layoffs of state workers in February.

Klein said it would have caused irreparable harm to the state to provide advance notices of layoffs, offer a voluntary separation program and conduct individual hearings for workers before terminations took effect.

State law requires those steps but also gives the state leeway if time or money doesn’t permit, Klein said.

Klein said it would have required additional layoffs if department and other agencies had to delay the layoffs needed to find cost savings ordered by the Legislature with more than half of the fiscal year already over.

“These are unprecedented economic times, the likes of which haven’t been seen for many years,” Klein wrote in his April 17 ruling. “The state was given a mandate by the Legislature for each department to reduce its budget drastically and to do it expeditiously.”

Klein, who previously denied a request for a temporary restraining order, has scheduled a hearing Friday on a motion by the state to dismiss the suit outright.

A package of spending cuts, raids on special-purpose funds and use of federal stimulus dollars included in a late January budget-balancing package did not specifically order layoffs.

However, officials said layoffs were unavoidable for some departments and agencies because many of the spending cuts specifically targeted personnel expenses. Furloughs — unpaid time off — also were widely ordered throughout state government, but some departments concluded that strategy wouldn’t provide enough of the required savings.

Agencies hit hardest by layoffs include the Departments of Administration, Economic Security and Revenue. Each also used furloughs.

Klein said the timing and severity of the budget cuts created a “perfect storm” that resulted in layoff decisions “that were in the departments’ best interests and achieved the objective of separating the fewest amount of employees possible.”

Circumstances, namely the lack of money, didn’t permit departments to provide advance notices of layoffs or other normal pre-termination procedures, he said.

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