Lawsuit Yes... Budget, No?

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BUDGET DAY PLUS 41 -- Only during a state budget impasse could one say, with a straight face, that while it's been a hectic day... not that much has actually happened.

The one solid thing that has happened is Governor Schwarzenegger making good on his threat to file a lawsuit against Controller John Chiang, asking a court to force Chiang to suspend all but minimum wages for about 138,000 state employees.

The lawsuit trigger was pulled after Chiang, through a top technical adviser, wrote to the governor's personnel office saying that controller officials need the rest of this week to examine any possible option for retooling the seemingly ancient payroll computer system... a key reason Chiang has said the governor's executive order is unworkable.

Meantime, another ongoing saga related to that executive order concerns just who is, and isn't, exempt from the minimum wage salary provisions. Legislators from both parties sent the governor a sharply worded letter today demanding that all correctional officers in California's 33 prisons continue getting their full salaries.

Schwarzenegger announced last week that many other public safety agencies are almost totally exempt, including the CHP and Caltrans.

But for now, not the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. And a bipartisan group of senators took aim at the pace of decision making in today's letter:

"We understand that [corrections secretary] Matt Cate is personally culling through the many classifications and shift assignments at each corrections facility to see who should be exempted from the order. The fuse is lit and now he’s assessing the potential carnage? We find this infuriating! Why wasn’t this managed before issuing the order or announcing it publicly?"

The legislators say that if no order to exempt prison guards is issued soon, they'll hold a hearing on Wednesday to grill administration officials in public about the issue.

And finally, the chatter about possible progress on a budget deal became a lot louder this afternoon... though all sides continue to say, for the record, that no agreement has been reached between Democrats and Republicans. Of course, it takes much less agreement in the state Senate, where a two-thirds vote on the budget only needs two GOP legislators (assuming, that is, that all Democrats would vote yes).

Over at the popular GOP blog, Flash Report, blogger Jon Fleischman has been compiling formal statements from GOP legislators that still will not vote for a tax increase... and sounds the alarm over one GOP senator who Fleischman claims hasn't completely closed that door.

And what are Capitol denizens focusing on in the ongoing budget talks? No surprises here: taxes (how much, whether tax-averse Republicans would ever vote for them), budget reform (how many new constraints on spending are Democrats willing to accept, and how much new power are they willing to give the guv when it comes to making cuts on his own), and changes to the California Lottery (if you allow the lottery to modernize and, theoretically, become more profitable... where do those extra profits go?).

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new multimedia California Politics & Government Desk.  He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades -- serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and, most recently, as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. He moderated the only gubernatorial debate of 2014, and was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.

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