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Governor orders state offices to close 2 days a month

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s administration issued a plan to close many state offices on the first and third Fridays of each month starting Feb. 6, as part of its effort to save money on employee salaries, according to a department memorandum issued Friday.

The Department of Motor Vehicles is among the agencies likely to be affected as the state’s cash crisis worsens, officials said.

Plans for individual agencies are expected to be released next week.

“We’re working through those details in the coming days,” said Lynelle Jolley, a spokeswoman for the Department of Personnel Administration.

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“Right now we just need to get the word out to our employees.”

Essential services such as prisons, hospitals and veterans’ homes will not close. Instead, managers will have to work out staggered schedules for employees to take furloughs so agency operations can continue.

Jim Zamora, a spokesman for Service Employees International Union Local 1000, said that many agencies already are short-staffed and forcing their employees to work overtime. He cited as an example the state unemployment insurance offices, where there aren’t enough people to answer the phones.

“People already spend hours trying to get through to a human being,” Zamora said. “With the furloughs, I don’t see how they’re going to get the work done that they need to get done.”

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Under the executive order Schwarzenegger issued last month, 238,000 employees will be forced to take off two unpaid days per month. Managers will receive either the furlough or an equivalent salary reduction during the same period. The furloughs aim to save the state more than $1.2 billion over the next 18 months.

The announcement came as three state employee unions, including SEIU Local 1000, continued to press their legal challenge against Schwarzenegger’s furlough plan, which is projected to save the state about 9% of salary costs as it grapples with a budget gap estimated to reach $41.6 billion by the middle of next year. That shortfall represents roughly half of all the money the state expects to take in during that fiscal year, which begins in July.

“The governor doesn’t have any authority to do this,” said Bruce Blanning, executive director of Professional Engineers in California Government. “He can’t unilaterally cut people’s pay or tell state employees to stay at home. That’s a legislative function.”

Superior Court Judge Patrick Marlette in Sacramento agreed Friday to hear arguments in the case on Jan. 29.

In a letter Friday, State Treasurer Bill Lockyer told the governor’s office he would refuse to furlough his workers, saying he did not believe the governor had legal authority. Lockyer, a Democrat, is independently elected and does not have to follow instructions from the governor.

“We will not comply with an executive order that we are convinced does not rest on solid legal grounds and which would impose such a hardship on the backs of our employees,” Lockyer wrote.

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jordan.rau@latimes.com

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patrick.mcgreevy@ latimes.com


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