Apologizing for an inferred lack of sensitivity to the plight of state employees, Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer reversed course on Tuesday, announcing that he has reconsidered his decision not to personally participate in the furlough of state employees.
Farmer will donate the equivalent of six days of his salary to charity.
"I am sorry that I did not come to this conclusion sooner," Farmer said in a statement that also restated Farmer's opposition to Governor Beshear’s furlough policy, which the Republican says attempts "to balance the state budget on the backs of state employees."
"My position on the furloughs has not changed, but I have reconsidered my reaction to them," Farmer said.
The two-term agriculture commissioner is under increased scrutiny while running for lieutenant governor alongside Senate President David Williams. Farmer has defended both the ag department's purchase of new SUV's despite the state budget crisis and billing taxpayers $1600 for a hotel suite and meals during the boys Sweet 16 tournament in Lexington. In both instances, Farmer or his office have said that the expenses are central to the department's mission of promoting Kentucky agriculture.
Meanwhile, Farmer's wife filed for divorce on April 5, a surprise to the campaign.
In statements released to the Lexington Herald-Leader, two critics of Farmer's original stance offered backhanded praise to his reconsideration.
"Better late than never. We're glad to hear that Commissioner Farmer has seen the light on the sacrifices that our state's front-line workers are making, including the workers who serve directly under him at the Agriculture Department." -- Kentucky Association of State Employees President David Smith.
"The Kentucky Democratic Party is pleased that Commissioner Farmer has found a way to overcome his philosophical objections long enough to become the last constitutional officer to return furlough pay. We hope his newfound fiscal restraint will apply to his luxury hotel stays as well." -- KDP spokesman Matt Erwin
FRANKFORT, Ky. — Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer issued this statement regarding his voluntary donation of pay for furlough days:
“I continue to disagree with Governor Beshear’s decision to balance the state budget on the backs of state employees in the form of furlough days. I believe the furloughs to be unnecessary, as the General Assembly on two occasions has provided the Governor other means with which to balance the budget, and the Governor chose to veto them. My position on the furloughs has not changed, but I have reconsidered my reaction to them.
“Initially, I chose not to participate due to my strong disagreement with the overall policy. After reconsidering, I decided there was a better way to serve the greater good while letting state employees know that it doesn’t have to be this way, and that I sympathize with them and will share in their sacrifice.
“Donating a few hundred dollars back to the state treasury is not going to solve our budget problems, nor will it change the situation for state employees. That is why today I have donated $1,000 to Capital City Christian Church and $1,071.42 to the Kentucky National Guard Memorial Fund to represent the first five furlough days imposed during the current fiscal year. I will make a donation to another charity to represent the sixth furlough day in May.
“By taking this action, I hope to also bring attention to the extreme generosity and hard work that state employees continue to exhibit day after day. I am sorry that I did not come to this conclusion sooner. It was never my intention to make it seem that I was insensitive to the plight of state employees. I appreciate the service of each and every one of our state employees, and I am especially grateful to the employees of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, who serve all Kentuckians every day.”