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Schwarzenegger orders a new round of unpaid furloughs

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More than 150,000 California state workers will again face unpaid furloughs, beginning in August, after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Wednesday declared a financial state of emergency and ordered them to take three days off per month.

Starting the second Friday in August, much of California’s government, including Department of Motor Vehicles offices, will be shuttered three times a month at least until a state budget is in place.

The governor’s critics called the order politically motivated, intended to ramp up pressure on the Legislature to pass a budget and on unions to make concessions on their pension plans. Schwarzenegger pitched the move as a necessity to avert a looming cash crunch.

“Our cash situation leaves me no choice but to once again furlough state workers until the Legislature produces a budget I can sign,” Schwarzenegger said in a statement.

The order says the furloughs will end when there’s a budget and the governor’s finance department determines that California has enough cash to meet its obligations.

State Controller John Chiang said this week that he would begin issuing IOUs in late August or September if the budget stalemate drags on. The state is in its fifth week without a spending plan.

State employees’ previous furloughs, also three days a month — the equivalent of a 14% pay cut — ended with the fiscal year that expired June 30.

The governor’s order exempted tens of thousands of workers whose unions have struck tentative labor contracts with his administration. Those deals include cutbacks in pension benefits and other concessions.

Al Groh, executive director of the Union of American Physicians and Dentists, said avoiding the new furloughs was a major reason his union made recent contract compromises.

“It’s one less anxiety for our members,” he said of the union’s 1,800 state employees.

Groh said the new furlough order was Schwarzenegger’s attempt to push more unions into similar givebacks.

“That’s the way he does business,” Groh said. “He leverages people very strongly.”

The governor previously tried to slash workers’ pay to the federal minimum wage because the state was without a budget, but that effort has been stalled by Chiang and in the courts.

Shannon Murphy, a spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker John Pérez (D- Los Angeles), said Wednesday: “It’s shocking that every single one of the governor’s budget moves deliberately hurt people.”

Employees in agencies that collect taxes and workers in departments not paid from the state’s deficit-riddled general fund will continue to work full schedules, according to the executive order. Past furloughs for tax collectors came under fire for costing California hundreds of millions of dollars more than they saved.

Aaron McLear, a Schwarzenegger spokesman, said more workers can be exempted from the furloughs this year because the cash crunch is not as severe as it was in 2009.

The Schwarzenegger administration estimates that the furloughs will save the state $147 million a month, possibly delaying the need for IOUs. Roughly $80 million per month of that savings would help shrink California’s $19.1-billion general fund deficit; the rest is earmarked for specific programs.

Courts have ruled that Schwarzenegger has the authority to furlough most state government workers, but not those in the legislative and judicial branches or employees of community colleges and state universities, among others. The governor requested that those entities implement similar measures.

shane.goldmacher@latimes.com


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