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Governor Uses Tactic to Press Pay Cuts for Prison Guards

Times Staff Writer

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Thursday turned up the pressure on the prison guards union to accept a pay cut, effectively inviting the Legislature to cut the $201.4-million raise that guards are scheduled to receive.

Using a rather arcane bureaucratic procedure, Schwarzenegger notified the Legislature that he has changed the way employees’ pay is displayed in the state budget. By specifying the amounts that each of 21 state employee unions stands to receive in the fiscal year beginning July 1, the governor is making those sums vulnerable to cuts. If legislators don’t trim the raises, he can use his line-item veto authority to do so.

A top Schwarzenegger administration official said the maneuver was aimed at the California Correctional Peace Officers Assn., which has one of the richest contracts.

“We’re disappointed that they haven’t more seriously engaged at the bargaining table,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

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Schwarzenegger, facing a $14-billion budget deficit, has called on state employee unions to reopen their contracts and defer at least some of their raises. The administration official said the letter underscored that “the governor is serious about the bargaining units getting serious about reopening negotiations” over their existing contracts.

The union declined to discuss the letter.

The document lists raises for various bargaining units that range from a few hundred thousand dollars to $14.1 million for state firefighters, $68.7 million for Highway Patrol officers and $201.4 million for the 31,000-member California Correctional Peace Officers Union.

Assembly Budget Committee Chairman Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) said that the Legislature intended to cut the Department of Corrections budget by $400 million -- and that a chunk could come from reductions in the guards’ raises.

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The Schwarzenegger letter follows an opinion by the legislative counsel’s office saying that automatic raises are illegal because the Legislature must make a specific appropriation to cover the cost of each raise each year.

Gov. Gray Davis signed legislation in 2002 approving the five-year contract his aides negotiated with the guards’ union, which donated $1.4 million directly and indirectly to his campaign account during his first term.

Under that contract, guards stand to receive an 11.3% raise in the coming year, on top of a 6.8% raise this year. Over its life, the contract could give prison officers a raise of 37% or more, boosting a veteran officer’s annual pay to more than $73,000.

Sen. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough), who has been critical of the correctional officers’ contract, said Thursday that after briefings from the Schwarzenegger administration, she believed the letter appeared to be setting up the contract for closer review by the Legislature.

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“It draws a stark comparison among the various bargaining units,” Speier said. “It establishes what we know -- that correctional peace officers got an extraordinary deal that was not properly understood by the Legislature”

Only one legislator -- Sen. Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks) -- voted against the contract in 2002.

At the time, the Davis administration Department of Finance put the five-year cost of the deal at $521 million. The Assembly Appropriations Committee placed the cost at $1.3 billion over the life of the contract.

The Schwarzenegger administration recently placed the cost at $2 billion over the contract’s life.

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Speier, who voted for the contract, said Thursday that she intended to press other legislators to reconsider the contract.

“We’ve all learned a very important lesson,” Speier said.

By far the bulk of the prison guards’ pay raise -- $199.3 million in the 2004-2005 fiscal year -- would come from the state’s $76-billion general fund.

The general fund, filled with money from taxes on income, sales and corporate profits, is used for general programs including education, healthcare for poor people and prisons. When legislators impose spending cuts, they generally pare back general fund programs.

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The bargaining unit that comes closest in general fund cost is a 43,000-member union that includes analysts, auditors and an array of rank-and-file state workers. The cost of its increase will be $38.8 million.


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