Court upholds furloughs but says legislature endorsement was needed

The California Supreme Court today upheld Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's power to furlough state workers and make emergency budget cuts to address the state's fiscal crisis.

In a ruling issued in San Francisco, the court unanimously said the governor's furlough order last year was validated by the Legislature when it passed a budget bill incorporating lower salary costs.

Chief Justice Ronald George wrote, “We conclude that the Legislature's 2009 enactment of revisions to the 2008 Budget Act operated to ratify the use of the two-day-a-month furlough program.”

Last year's furloughs of about 200,000 state workers began in February 2009 with two unpaid days off per month and were increased by Schwarzenegger in July 2009 to three days.

In the current furlough program, about 144,000 workers are shut out from their jobs for three days per month.

The court issued its decision in three lawsuits filed by state worker unions.

In a second ruling, the court unanimously upheld Schwarzenegger's authority to use line-item vetoes to cut an additional $489 million from a midyear emergency budget reduction measure passed by the Legislature in July 2009.

The cuts were made to health, welfare and parks spending.

Schwarzenegger issued a statement saying, “As governor, I have had to make very difficult decisions in response to the worldwide economic collapse, including furloughs for state workers and line-item vetoes to balance our budget.

“These decisions were absolutely necessary to keep our state functioning,” the governor said.

In the furlough cases, the court stopped short, however, of accepting Schwarzenegger's argument that a governor has blanket authority as the state's chief executive to impose furloughs.

The panel said Schwarzenegger needed the endorsement provided by the Legislature's budget bill in February 2009.

A spokesman for an employees' union found a silver lining in that part of the ruling.

Bruce Blanning, executive director of Professional Engineers in California Government, said, “The court essentially ruled that the governor does not have the power to impose furloughs unilaterally. 

“We though that part of the ruling was good,” Blanning said.

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