Wilson Can't Force State Workers to Pay Dental Premiums, Judge Rules

In another blow to Gov. Pete Wilson's effort to claim more power over state spending, a Sacramento County Superior Court Judge on Friday ordered the governor not to require state employees to pay a share of the cost of their dental benefits.

Judge James Ford, who earlier ruled that Wilson did not have the power to cut employee salaries by 5% and reduce health benefits, said Wilson also was overstepping his authority by trying to pass along to workers an increase in the premiums paid by the state for its employee dental insurance plan.

The state currently pays 100% of the dental premium.

Ford said the law requires Wilson to get the Legislature's approval before making the change.

"The ultimate authority for pay and benefits rests with the Legislature," Ford told an attorney representing the Wilson Administration.

As part of a plan to erase a $14.3-billion budget shortfall, the governor and the Legislature agreed last summer to trim payroll costs by $351 million, but did not specify how the money would be saved. Since then, Wilson's proposals to reduce pay and benefits have been rejected by employee labor unions.

Unless the unions and the Legislature agree to reductions, Ford said, the benefits must remain at the level called for in current law. If the law does not specify the level, he said, the state must rely on the most recent negotiated agreement and the budget passed by the Legislature.

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