The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

December 21, 2010
Blog back: Brown and furloughs

Blog backs review your thoughtful and provocative online comments, amplify points, answer questions, correct our mistakes and humbly accept your warranted criticism.

Many blog users were upset with our analysis of incoming Gov. Jerry Brown's furlough options, which we touched on in last week's State Worker column and then discussed in more detail here:

Dec. 16 Column Extra: More about Brown and furloughs

John (sic), you obviously you write articles without doing any research before you publish it. You should know by now that special funded departments do not get pay from the general fund. So the savings in the budget by GAS and the Leg, are not true saving figures. Brown could easily end furlough for special funded departments. This would instantly stimulate the economy while getting much of the stalled work done while the budget deficit remains the same.

Actually, we've written quite a bit about "special fund" versus general fund departments and furloughs.

There is no legal definition of "special fund." Nearly every agency and department in the state receives some percentage of its budget from the general fund. A handful -- the California Earthquake Authority, State Compensation Insurance Fund , CalPERS, CalSTRS and the like -- have operating budgets completely divorced from the general fund.

So if Brown could somehow set furlough policy based on funding source, what's the line between special and general fund departments? Or do you look at drawing a line between special fund and general fund employees? (This was the standard that Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg set in a bill that sought to exempt some state workers from furloughs. Click here for more about the legislation, which Schwarzenegger vetoed.)

Furthermore, the Legislature set the employee compensation reduction target in the budget ($896 million) because, as the state Supreme Court ruled, it's the only branch of government with that authority. So Brown can't "easily" end furloughs because he doesn't have the authority to unilaterally change the legislation.

(You could argue that Schwarzenegger didn't have the authority to unilaterally order furloughs in the first place, and you'd be right. His order was legitimized by subsequent legislative events that tacitly approved the policy, the California Supreme Court ruled.)

If special fund employees do get some furlough relief, it's more likely to come from the courts, where the unions are pressing the argument that employees in special fund departments -- a list that has been expanded several times in litigation -- shouldn't have been furloughed.

So in Mr. Ortiz's mind, negotiating in good faith like a mature adult would cause "political ramifications of a Democratic governor appearing to cave in to the unions." Good think (sic) Governor Brown doesn't take Mr. Ortiz's advice.

We think that Brown will negotiate in good faith. But he will have a tough time offering anything better than the last deal accepted by SEIU. Deals that don't offer similar savings will subject him to the criticism that he is doing what he said he wouldn't during his campaign, namely, cozying up to unions.

Beyond that, imagine Local 1000's reaction if Brown undercuts their contract with a better deal for the next union to come in.

Good faith bargaining doesn't mean Brown can't have a savings goal. He does -- and it's dictated by the budget enacted by the Legislature.

I think what will ultimately happen is that Brown will be forced to lay off state workers. The furloughs have clearly not been working. Some departments will be far easier to cut workers at, such as Caltrans Right of Way where agents sit around for literally weeks with no assignments, and I know because I used to work as an agent. But there are many other departments that can easily see significant cuts in workers.

A Brown campaign aide said, "Furloughs are a temporary solution to a permanent problem." If the problem is that government is too big, then layoffs are a solution. If the problem is that government doesn't have enough money to legitimately operate, increasing taxes are a solution.

Most observers think that Brown will propose a combination of the two. It's highly unlikely he'll extend furloughs into 2011-12.

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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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