Schwarzenegger cuts salaries for government workers

The Governator has plans to find extra cash during a budget standoff with the California legislature — out of the wallets of the state’s employees.  Arnold Schwarzenegger will sign an executive order reducing their salaries to the federal minimum wage, furlough non-regular employees, and impose a hard hiring freeze on all agencies except those in the public-safety realm.  The move attempts to force the legislature to act on its pending budget, which has a deficit larger than the entire budgets of most states:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger plans to sign an executive order next week that will temporarily reduce pay for more than 200,000 state workers to the federal minimum wage of $6.55 per hour to preserve cash in the midst of a month-long budget standoff, according to a draft copy of the order obtained by The Bee.

But a spokeswoman for Democratic state Controller John Chiang, who pays the state’s bills, said he would ignore the governor’s order, likely forcing a court battle.

“He will pay state workers the salaries that they have earned, and that’s full salary,” said Deputy Controller Hallye Jordan.

Californians can set their clocks to the budget process in Sacramento, but not in a good way. The state legislature has not produced budgets on time in decades. At one time, it got bad enough that Republicans attempted to withhold the salaries of legislators when budgets failed to pass by the fiscal-year deadline of July 1.

At least legislators would have earned such a penalty.  Schwarzenegger’s plan would punish workers who have no control over the budget process rather than the politicians who sleepwalk their way through the budget process, year after year.  It probably won’t hold up in court, anyway, as workers will undoubtedly file a blizzard of lawsuits that will tie up the courts and increase the state’s costs even more.  Prior court decisions have already provided the basis to pay salaries during budget standoffs, so it isn’t as if Scwarzenegger has a requirement to cut the salaries of state workers or stop paying them altogether.  And no matter what one thinks of the bloated bureaucracies in California, abruptly cutting wages to workers could cause them to lose houses in an already tough market, along with other obvious hardships.

What kind of budget does the Governator want moved, anyway?  The budget under consideration is a disaster.  It spends $144 billion, $101 billion of it from the general fund, and it has a $15.2 billion deficit.  To put this in perspective, the entire annual budget for Minnesota was $15.9 billion in 2007. California has six times as many residents as Minnesota, and its budget is roughly proportional to that, but Minnesota managed to stay in the black — while California continues to spend money it doesn’t have.

Schwarzenegger at one time promised to end runaway deficits and instill discipline into the budgeting process.  He gave that up in order to curry favor with the cognoscenti in the Golden State, and now he wants to discipline the workers rather than the legislators.  Will Californians ever learn, or will it take a complete economic collapse in their state to awaken them from their nanny-state dreams?