The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

March 14, 2013
Report: California's furloughs driving up leave cash-out costs

130314-mac-taylor-2013-byer.JPGCalifornia paid more than a quarter-billion dollars to cash out state employee leave last year, according to a new state report, in part because furloughed state workers haven't been taking as much paid time off.

STATE PAY DATABASE UPDATE: The Sacramento Bee state pay database now includes 2012 civil service pay

The report from the office of Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor says employee leave cash outs cost $270 million in 2011-12 and concludes that the liability in future years is so heavy that lawmakers should consider a leave-buyback program rather than carry the time on the books. The Legislative Analyst's Office also suggests the state impose a "use-it-or-lose-it" policy on future leave accruals and clamp down on enforcing the state's leave cap, which some departments have routinely ignored.

Furloughs have cut the state's employee payroll costs by about $5 billion since fiscal 2008-09 when former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and lawmakers imposed them, but the savings are less, the analyst says, because employees have taken less paid leave.

Those hours, in turn, stack up in employees' leave banks. Since unused time is cashed out at a worker's final pay rate when he or she leaves state service leave balances gain value to an employee -- and costs the state more -- with every raise or promotion.

"Probably nearly $1 billion of these furlough savings was not long-term savings," the LAO concludes. "Instead, the state must pay this money as they retire or otherwise leave state service."

The state's employee-leave balance tab hit $3.9 billion in June 2012, according to the analyst.

The state caps accrued leave at 640 hours for most of its employees, but more than 23,700 of them -- roughly 10 percent of the state workforce -- had more that that much time banked in January. Furloughs contributed to those blown leave caps: State workers' average leave balance grew by 16 days between 2008 and 2012.

Furloughs also affected state operations. Employees' average allowed time off increased 50 percent in the last five years. From fiscal 2008-09 through the current fiscal year, correctional officers have taken an average 94 unpaid days off, the most of any employee group. Employees represented by SEIU Local 1000 and managers and supervisors received 79 days off, with most other groups receiving 70. Firefighters (20 unpaid days) and CHP officers (12 days) weren't furloughed for most of the last five years.

PHOTO CREDIT: Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor holds a press conference reviewing Gov. Jerry Brown's budget on Jan. 14, 2013, in Sacramento, California. Renée C. Byer / Sacramento Bee

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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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