AG staff may avoid executive order pay cuts

Legal News Line Dec. 31, 2008, 1:11am


SACRAMENTO, Calif., (Legal Newsline)-California Attorney General Jerry Brown's office is uncertain if it will be subject to an executive order issued by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger calling for twice-monthly mandatory and unpaid furloughs for state workers starting in February.

Because the attorney general's office is a separate constitutional office it is unclear whether Brown's staff will be subjected to the executive order.

"We are currently evaluating whether the governor's executive order applies directly to the Department of Justice and other constitutional officers," Brown spokeswoman Christine Gasparac told Legal Newsline on Tuesday, "and whether there may be additional or alternative ways for the Department of Justice to generate additional savings and revenue."

The governor issued his executive order following months of ongoing budget battles with the Legislature, during which the state has fallen into a critical financial crisis that Schwarzenegger said was "headed toward a financial Armageddon." The state's two-year budget hole has risen from roughly $17 billion to more than $40 billion since the Legislature passed the budget in late summer.

On Tuesday, State Controller John Chiang said the first group to get IOUs instead of paychecks could be the lawmakers themselves on Feb. 1 as the state could potentially run out of cash the beginning of March, according to published reports.

"Without a deficit-closing deal between legislators and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger," Chiang, a Democrat, said, his office "has no choice but to pursue the deferral of potentially billions of dollars in payments and/or the issuance of individual registered warrants, commonly referred to as IOUs."

Schwarzenegger, a Republican, is required to propose a balanced budget by Jan. 10. His 2009-2010 proposed budget will be released next week. Further, he and the Legislature continued to hammer out a mid-year budget revision that would remove $18 billion from the deficit. To accomplish that goal, the governor said the state needs to reduce payroll by 10 percent, with potential layoffs expected.

Despite the hardships for all government workers the Department of Justice is often under different budget rules than most state employees. Earlier this year when Schwarzenegger issued an executive order to lay off more than 10,000 temporary workers, the attorney general's office was not affected.

In response, the attorney general's office prohibited overtime and limited contract employees to those deemed to be "mission critical positions" in order to cooperate with the governor, while still not subjecting its staff to the cuts imposed by the governor's executive order.

"We fully understand the seriousness of the state's budget crisis, and we have been a cooperative partner in helping solve it," Gasparac said on Tuesday. "During the Brown Administration, the Department of Justice has implemented many substantial and effective measures to reduce spending."

Gasparac said the Department of Justice's general fund budget was cut by $51 million, "which is greater than the 10 percent called for by the governor." Brown's office returned over $17 million to the general fund by implementing stringent spending restrictions, Gasparac said, in addition earning more than $100 million in case settlements in the past two years.

Earlier this summer, when the Legislature and Schwarzenegger budget deadlock reached a record-setting 86 days past the due date, Brown did offer some simple advice for the governor.

"Get (the lawmakers) in the same room," Brown, a two-term former governor of California said when asked what advice he would offer. "Maybe serve them a cocktail or two."

He then was a bit more specific saying, "They've got to come to grips with the significant elements of the budget. If they are not going to have $17 billion (to balance the budget) they have to put cuts on the board. And you have to run their nose in what it is that will be eliminated. It's too generic now. It's all behind the screen."

In the months that have followed, as California's economic revenue declined and outlook grew even more grim, Schwarzenegger has tried virtually everything Brown suggested, including calling special session before Thanksgiving and Christmas. But conservative Republicans remain dead set against tax increases and Democrats have refused to give businesses the economic incentives Schwarzenegger is demanding.

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