Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger formally asked the state's highest court today to clear the way for worker furloughs.
Schwarzenegger, after an appellate court ruled against him Thursday, filed an appeal with the Supreme Court that seeks to lift a temporary restraining order barring him from imposing furloughs.
If the High Court agrees with the governor and acts quickly, more than 144,000 state workers could be forced to take three Fridays off per month without pay -- beginning next week and extending at least until further court proceedings next month, unless a new state budget is passed before then.
Schwarzenegger ordered the furloughs July 28, but a lawsuit by employee unions prompted Alameda Superior Court Judge Steven A. Brick on Monday to block imposition of furloughs until a scheduled court hearing Sept. 13 at which both sides are expected to make extensive arguments.
Contending that even a one-month delay in launching furloughs would cost the state millions in lost savings, Schwarzenegger challenged Brick's ruling, appealing unsuccessfully to the 1st District Court of Appeal which in a two-sentence announcement Thursday sustained the temporary restraining order but did not say why.
Brick had concluded that "serious questions" have been raised about the legality of furloughs and that permitting them before the Sept. 13 court hearing could cause irreparable harm to workers struggling to pay mortgages and care for their families.
Schwarzenegger countered that blocking furloughs would harm the state's ability to function in a time of $19 billion deficit and a deadlock within the Legislature on passing a new budget.
The governor accused the lower court of interfering with his executive authority, and he argued that money saved by imposing furloughs - more than $75 million per month in general fund savings - is critical to retaining key health and safety programs during the budget crisis.
Irreparable harm to the state from blocking such cost-cutting "exceeds any harm that state employees will suffer from temporary furloughs," Schwarzenegger said in his appeal to the Supreme Court.