The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

April 29, 2010
Column Extra: The ruling that OK'd withholding state payroll

Space constraints limit our Thursday State Worker column to roughly 400 words, so much of what we learn in the ramp up to writing it never sees print. Column Extras give State Worker blog users more information -- the notes, the quotes and the documents behind the weekly feature.

Our State Worker column today looks at whether Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will again order state employees' wages held to the federal minimum allowed if lawmakers fail to pass an on-time budget.

But how does the law allow that?

The power to impose the federal minimum wage is tied to White v. Davis. The California Supreme Court said a 2003 decision on that state law doesn't authorize employees' pay beyond the legal minimum in the absence of money appropriated for wages in the state budget. So, when budget talks deadlock when there's no funding set aside for payroll, the door opens to temporarily cutting wages.

Click here to download White v. Davis. The key findings are summed up on pages 4 and 5, including this paragraph:

(W)e conclude that under the applicable California statutes, state employees who work during a budget impasse obtain the right, protected by the contract clauses of the federal and state Constitutions, to the state's ultimate payment of their full salary for work performed during the budget impasse; that is, when state employees work during a budget impasse, the state becomes contractually obligated ultimately to pay employees the full salary they have earned. At the same time, however, we conclude that the Court of Appeal was correct in determining that state employees do not have a contractual right actually to receive the payment of salary prior to the enactment of an applicable appropriation, and that the Controller is not authorized under state law to pay those salaries prior to such an appropriation. Thus, state law contractually guarantees that state employees ultimately will receive their full salary for work performed during a budget impasse, but state law does not authorize the Controller to disburse state funds to the employees until an applicable appropriation has been enacted.

The Schwarzenegger administration says the law compelled the governor's 2008 order to the Department of Personnel Administration to issue letters to the controller to withhold pay to the federal minimum. But clearly the decision was at least partly political as well as legal. After all, Schwarzenegger and the Legislature in earlier years had failed to agree on a budget by the June 30, but 2008 was the first time he invoked White v. Davis to withhold wages.

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About The State Worker

Jon Ortiz The Author

Jon Ortiz launched The State Worker blog and a companion column in 2008 to cover state government from the perspective of California government employees. Every day he filters the news through a single question: "What does this mean for state workers?" Join Ortiz for updates and debate on state pay, benefits, pensions, contracts and jobs. Contact him at (916) 321-1043 and at jortiz@sacbee.com.

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