California agencies scramble to implement furlough
Associated Press Writer
SACRAMENTO ” State agencies were scrambling Thursday to implement the first employee furloughs in California history, ordered by Gov. Arnold Schwar-
zenegger to save money in the face of a massive budget crisis.
Many agencies were trying to figure out whether some employees might be working today, the first of the two-a-month furloughs. Most had not issued public notices on their Web sites about their closures.
Schwarzenegger’s office says about 90 percent of the state’s 238,000 employees are supposed to be off today. A Sacramento County Superior Court judge upheld the governor’s executive order last week.
On Thursday, the same judge said his previous ruling did not apply to employees of state constitutional offices, such as the attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer, because they were not a party to the lawsuit.
That decision came in response to an inquiry from state Controller John Chiang, who wanted to clarify whether Schwarzenegger had the authority to force the furloughs on elected officials.
Judge Patrick Marlette said his previous order did not address that question because it was not raised in the lawsuit brought against Schwarzenegger by state employee unions.
The issue is important because it could determine whether some 15,000 employees will be forced to take days off without pay. Each of the seven constitutional officers, other than the governor’s office, has said they will not comply with Schwarzenegger’s furlough order.
Late Thursday, Schwar-
zenegger’s legal affairs secretary, Andrea Hoch, said the governor’s office interprets last week’s court ruling as applying to all state employees. The administration is prepared to sue Chiang, whose office cuts state paychecks, if he does not comply, Hoch said in a memo released by the governor’s office.
A spokeswoman for Chiang said the controller will follow the court order but believes it does not extend to employees of the constitutional offices.
“There is no court order regarding the statewide or constitutional officers,” spokeswoman Hallye Jordan said.
Schwarzenegger’s office has estimated the furloughs will save the state about $1.3 billion through June 2010.
For employees, the furloughs will amount to a 9.2 percent pay cut. Public safety and some other employees were exempt. Some workers will be on the job today but will be required to take unpaid days off in the future.
Zamora said many employees were receiving conflicting information about who was affected. The union collected several memos from managers apologizing for their lack of information.
Lynelle Jolley, a spokeswoman for the Department of Personnel Administration, said the situation was changing constantly and that managers were being kept as up-to-date as possible.
“A certain amount of confusion is unavoidable, given that this has never been done,” she said. “We’re doing it under emergency circumstances, and the uncertainty of what’s happening in the Legislature continues to plague all of our planning efforts.”
Among the offices to be closed today are those of the Department of Motor Vehicles and Veterans Affairs.
Call centers that process unemployment claims will be staffed, and the state Employment Development Department decided Thursday to keep open some 250 career centers where the unemployed get information about job training and benefits, after previously saying they would be closed, EDD spokeswoman Loree Levy said.
State parks also will remain open because they generate revenue.
Craig Copelan, an engineer with the state Department of Transportation, was among a handful of state workers who said they planned to show up at work Friday, despite the furlough order.
“I have a lot of work to do. I’m really serious about what I do,” said Copelan, who works on traffic safety studies. “Our work doesn’t stop on the weekends, it’s 24-7.”
The furloughs come after months of negotiations to try to solve the state’s budget shortfall, which is projected to reach $42 billion by June 2010.
Lawmakers hope to reach a deal before the state runs out of cash, possibly by the end of February.
Republicans have steadfastly opposed increasing taxes, while Democrats have been unwilling to accept deep cuts to social services. Schwarzenegger says both are needed, but has been unable to broker a compromise.
The governor has declared a fiscal state of emergency, allowing him to order the furloughs. The administration still believes the furlough order applies to constitutional officers, said Schwarzenegger’s communications director, Matt David.
“During this fiscal crisis, the governor believes strongly that we have to do everything we can in this state to cut back since families across the state are doing the same thing,” he said.
The constitutional offices that were not addressed in the judge’s earlier ruling are the lieutenant governor, secretary of state, treasurer, controller, attorney general, superintendent of public instruction and insurance commissioner. The court’s furlough ruling also did not apply to the Board of Equalization, a tax appeals board.
The governor’s office has said its employees will work on Friday but take the pay cut.
Associated Press Writer Judy Lin contributed to this report.