Dems Push For One Less Furlough Day

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Arguing that the furloughs of tens of thousands of state workers is "costing the state money and further hurting the economy," the leader of the state Senate says he intends to push a plan to trim the three days of furloughs every month down to two.

Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg made the above observation in a letter to Governor Schwarzenegger, asking the governor to rethink a policy which has cut most state worker paychecks by almost 15% a month. Steinberg's letter focuses on signs that the policy, in some cases, may not be saving the state as much money as first believed.

"The current furlough policy has become a 'penny saved, a dollar lost' approach," writes Steinberg. His office released a brief overview of furlough impacts -- in particular, how a recent legislative hearing found the state could miss out on some $360 million in revenues this year simply because tax agency workers weren't on the job.

The pro Tem's analysis echoes another criticism leveled at the worker furlough in recent weeks: that the salaries of many of those staying home are paid out of pots of money other than the state's general fund... even though it's the general fund where California has come up short. Just recently, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein asked the governor to stop furloughing state workers who process federal Social Security disability applications, because those workers are paid with federal dollars. And it's not just about federally paid workers; the Schwarzenegger adminstration lost a court battle this week over furloughs for workers at the state's workers compensation agency.

The governor's aides quicky fired back. "Senator Steinberg and Governor Schwarzenegger have a fundamental difference when it comes to furloughing state workers," said gubernatorial spokesman Aaron McLear in an email. "The governor believes they should cut back like all California families and businesses. Senator Steinberg believes state workers should be shielded from the economic realities the rest of the state faces."

Steinberg's letter also urges ratification of a new contract for state workers represented by SEIU Local 1000. That deal, struck by the union and the Schwarzenegger administration back in February, has languished in the Legislature and was effectively killed during deficit negotiations. Union members authorized a possible strike over the stalemate last month, and have recently reenergized their PR campaign to get the new contract approved.

Steinberg also announced today that he and Assembly Speaker Karen Bass will introduce legislation tomorrow to 'buy back' one of the current three furlough days through an across-the-board government cut that the pro Tem says should be "from the top down, not the bottom up."

The issue is especially sensitive for Steinberg, whose Sacramento area district probably has one of the highest concentrations of state workers anywhere in California. And the new discussion (or is it a debate?)... especially in light of new action to restore funding to other state services... feels like part of a plan by Democrats to reengage Schwarzenegger on budget decisions he made without them.

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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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