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Governor orders new furloughs for state workers

 Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ordered state employees to take three unpaid days off each month, although he exempted a several public-employee unions that had reached tentative collective bargaining agreements with the administration. The governor’s order also gave a pass to workers at revenue-producing agencies, such as the Franchise Tax Bard, which collects income taxes, and public-safety agencies such as the Highway Patrol, state firefighters and the California Earthquake Authority.

The workers beginning Aug. 1 will be required to take the second, third and fourth Fridays off each month until a state budget agreement is reached.

Perhaps 180,000 state employees will be affected. The unpaid days amount to nearly a 15 percent pay cut. State employees earn an average of about $63,000 annually.

The state began the 2010-11 fiscal year July 1 without a budget in place, as required by the constitution. The governor has suggested publicly he would be willing to let the budget impasse continue into the administration of the next governor, who will be elected Nov. 2 and take office in January.

Thus far, there is little indication of serious budget negotiations in the Capitol, where the Legislature is in its summer recess.

The state faces a $19 billion deficit. Passage of the budget requires two-thirds votes in each house. Democrats control both houses but lack the two-thirds majorities. Thus far Republicans and Democrats have been unable to reach agreement, with Democrats generally favoring new revenue – taxes – and Republicans favoring cuts.

The governor, meanwhile, noted that he opposes a potential change in law that would allow budgets to be approved with only a simple majority vote.

The governor’s budget policies have been challenged repeatedly in court in more than two-dozen lawsuits, most of them filed by public-employee groups.

Most recently, a Sacramento Superior Court ruled against him in his efforts to cut state workers’ pay to the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour absent a state budget. Judge Patrick Marlette, seeking more information on the issue, scheduled an Aug. 26 hearing.

The governor has said the cuts are needed to help balance the state’s books, but others disagree.

“To once again force state employees to take unpaid furloughs is just another punitive measure by Governor Schwarzenegger because he couldn’t impose minimum wage,” said Patty Velez, President California Association of Professional Scientists (CAPS).  “Furloughs are bad for state scientific programs which deliver services to the people of California, and they are bad for the economy.  They also are illegal.  We will continue to press our case challenging these furloughs which is currently before the California Supreme Court.”


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