The 34th annual statewide public transportation conference, scheduled next week in Raleigh, has been postponed indefinitely because most of the state Department of Transportation's public transportation workers are on furlough.
DOT said Thursday it had expected 200 people from transit agencies across the state to attend the three-day gathering at the Hilton North Raleigh Midtown. But nearly all of DOT's public transportation division workers – 22 people out of 29 positions – were sent home Tuesday. They won't return to work until Congress and the White House agree on a resolution to the budget stalemate in Washington.
The 22 state workers were furloughed because their salaries are paid from funds in the annual federal budget. Congress has not approved money to operate the federal government for the 2014 fiscal year, which started Tuesday.
(Oct. 4 update) Most of those remaining positions are vacant, so the DOT transit staff has only two employees still on the job.
"That leaves us with two bodies -- two state people trying to hold down the fort," said Richard Walls, the DOT deputy secretary for transit.
“Given that almost all the employees in the Public Transportation Division have been sent home without any indication of when they can return to work, we had no choice but to postpone the conference,” Walls said in a news release. “There’s no way we could host an event of this magnitude with only a few employees, and we will reschedule it for a later date when we have all our resources back in place.”
DOT has other employees who also are paid from federal sources, but their funds come from long-term, multi-year programs and are not dependent on the year-to-year budget, said Mark Foster, DOT's chief financial officer.
This year's state conference theme was: "Steering Through Change."