Politics & Government

Schwarzenegger likely to cut state workers' pay again

Not all of the hundreds of cuts Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed last week to close California's yawning budget gap are destined to occur.

But it's virtually certain that he'll cut state workers' paychecks again. The only question is how he'll get it done.

The Democratic-controlled Legislature could refuse to go along with the governor's announced plan for a 5 percent across-the-board pay cut. The governor can get the same payroll savings, however, by adding another furlough day to the two he's already ordered.

That power turns what would normally be a legislative suicide mission – persuading Democrats to whack the pay of one of their biggest constituencies – into a no-lose proposition.

"(A legislative loss) begins to make the case for executive action and subsequent court approval," said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California. "It's already worked once."

State worker pay and benefits have become a symbol of the contentious political divide between Republicans and Democrats as the recession has hammered state revenues and intensified debate over whether lawmakers should tax more or spend less.

California is in a $24.3 billion hole for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Schwarzenegger's wage-cut proposal would hit 235,000 employees starting July 1 and save the state general fund an estimated $470 million through June 30, 2010.

The pay cut would be on top of the 9.2 percent reduction workers took in February when the governor's two-day-per-month furlough order kicked in. Every eight hours of unpaid time off equals 4.6 percent of a worker's monthly pay.

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