Political payback: Calif. governor slashes budgets of constitutional officers

Legal News Line Feb. 21, 2009, 9:18am

Jerry Brown (D)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline) -- After a year and a half of political wrangling, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger finally got his budget. He signed the revised budget with a mixture of spending cuts and tax increases that will shore up the state's $42 billion deficit.

The Republican governor also got a small measure of revenge on Friday when he cut the budget of the attorney general, controller, treasurer and Board of Education an additional 10 percent to make up for the lost savings when the state's six constitutional officers, all Democrats, refused to enforce his executive order mandating two unpaid days off a month for all state employees.

"These are tough times, and the Department of Justice is 100 percent committed to doing its share," Scott Gerber, director of communications for Attorney General Jerry Brown told Legal Newsline following the governor's announcement. "We've already taken major steps to cut costs and operate more efficiently, and we will continue to tighten our belt.

"In this case, we believe that the Department of Justice has the independent discretion to meet this 10 percent cut through a wide-range of cost-saving measures, and we believe that we will be able to achieve these savings."

Earlier this month, the attorney general's office wrote a letter to state Controller John Chaing accusing Schwarzenegger of "bait-and-switch" after the governor tried to force the other offices to abide by his order.

Previously, the attorney general's office said the Department of Justice had more than adequately cut spending and helped raise revenue without needing to force unpaid furloughs on its staff.

In an earlier statement describing why the attorney general's office did not feel the need to comply with the governor's furlough order, the attorney general's office told Legal Newsline, "In addition to operating with the deep current-year cuts, the Department of Justice has been helping to solve the budget problems by generating millions of dollars for the General Fund in the legal work we do."

The Department of Justice made the state more than $15 million in settlements in 2007 and nearly $90 million in 2008 that went to the General Fund.

In addition to the 10 percent cuts, Schwarzenegger further chopped the budget of Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, according to published reports, slicing it from $2.78 million to $1.04 million. The cuts, the governor said, were "to ensure that sufficient resources are reserved for key programs within the state."

The move is likely to force Garamendi to lay off many in his small staff, potential political payback for the lieutenant governor's sharp criticism over the spending cuts within the budget. Republican Steve Poizner, who was critical of the tax increases in the deal, did not see his budget cut as sharply.

Like Poizner, Garamendi is running for governor in 2010. He said the budget will not resolve the long-term problems the state is facing. "The borrowing continues and the budget problem will re-emerge in a just a few months."

In addition to Poizner and Garamendi, Brown is expected to run for governor in 2010.

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