Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Thank You, Gov. Schwarzenegger

From SF Gate, October 4, 2010, by Bob Egelko: "The state Supreme Court upheld Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's furloughs of 200,000 state employees today, saying the Legislature had ratified his decision to order workers to take three days off each month without pay." See Professional Engineers in Cal. Government v. Schwarzenegger.

From the Gov: "Today's ruling [authorizing government employee furloughs] upholds the state's actions to protect taxpayers and ensure we live within our means."

Governor, you deserve so much more credit than you have been given. When you realized the Democratic state legislature wouldn't work with you, you went to the people via the initiative process--but we failed you. Now, you are doing the best you can to prevent the unions from destroying California. You have saved us $1 billion. Thank you.

Despite this victory, I am not entirely optimistic. I know your power has limits--as it should. The Court ruled that only the Legislature can authorize the governor to cut employee pay and workweeks. I predict the Democrats will pass a law limiting your power to furlough employees in the future. More details from the decision below, courtesy of the DFEH and Director Phyllis Cheng:

On December 1, 2008 — faced with (1) a large current state budget deficit that was projected to grow to more than $40 billion by the end of the 2009-2010 fiscal year, and (2) the very serious prospect that by as early as February 2009 the state would run out of cash to pay its ordinary expenses — the Governor of California declared a fiscal emergency, called the Legislature into special session, and submitted to the Legislature a comprehensive plan to address the budget problem. The Governor’s budget plan included, among many other cost-saving features, two proposed statutory provisions that would direct the Department of Finance and the Department of Personnel Administration to implement, for the remainder of the 2008-2009 fiscal year and for the entire 2009-2010 fiscal year, a mandatory one-day-a-month unpaid furlough of most state employees employed by the executive branch, a proposal that would save the state approximately $37.5 million per month by reducing by approximately 5 percent the wages paid to each of the affected employees.

Two and one-half weeks later, on December 18, 2008, the Legislature passed its own proposed comprehensive budget legislation, comprising 15 separate budget-related bills. Among many other differences from the Governor’s proposal, the Legislature’s alternative plan did not include the Governor’s recommended furlough provision.

On December 19, 2008, the Governor issued the executive order that lies at the heart of the present litigation, instructing the Department of Personnel Administration to implement, beginning on February 1, 2009, and continuing through June 30, 2010, a mandatory two-day-a-month unpaid furlough of most state workers employed in the executive branch.

Shortly after the Governor’s issuance of this executive order, a number of employee organizations — the recognized, exclusive bargaining representatives of a majority of the workers employed by the State of California — filed three separate, but similar, lawsuits, contending that the Governor lacked authority to implement unilaterally an involuntary furlough of represented state employees that reduced such employees’ hours and earnings by approximately 10 percent. The trial court, acting on an expedited basis, treated the three cases as related, heard argument in the cases together, and thereafter issued a single ruling rejecting the broad attacks made by the employee organizations on the executive order and concluding that the Governor possessed the authority to impose the furlough in response to the fiscal emergency facing the state.

The employee organizations (hereafter sometimes referred to as plaintiffs) appealed from the trial court’s ruling. After briefing in the Court of Appeal was completed and the three cases were consolidated for purposes of oral argument and decision, but before the Court of Appeal set the matter for oral argument or issued a decision, we exercised our authority pursuant to article VI, section 12, subdivision (a) of the California Constitution to transfer the consolidated matter to this court for oral argument and decision.

For the reasons explained below, we conclude that, under existing constitutional provisions and statutes, the Governor on December 19, 2008, possessed authority to institute a mandatory furlough of represented state employees, reducing the earnings of such employees, only if specifically granted such unilateral authority in an applicable memorandum of understanding entered into between the state and the employee organization representing the affected employees. Although there is considerable doubt whether the applicable memoranda of understanding granted the Governor such authority, we further conclude that even if the Governor lacked authority to institute the challenged furlough plan unilaterally, plaintiffs’ challenge to the furlough plan now before us must be rejected. In mid-February 2009 — shortly after the furlough program went into effect — the Legislature enacted, and the Governor signed, legislation that revised the Budget Act of 2008 (2008 Budget Act) by, among other means, reducing the appropriations for employee compensation contained in the original 2008 Budget Act by an amount that reflected the savings the Governor sought to obtain through the two-day-a-month furlough program. The February 2009 legislation further provided that the specified reduction in the appropriations for employee compensation could be achieved either through the collective bargaining process or through “existing administration authority.” That phrase, in the context in which the revised budget act was adopted and in light of the provision’s legislative history, reasonably included the furlough program that was then in existence and that had been authorized by the current gubernatorial administration. In particular, the bill analyses considered by the Legislature made specific reference to furlough-related reductions of employee compensation costs. Under these circumstances, we conclude that the Legislature’s 2009 enactment of the revisions to the 2008 Budget Act operated to ratify the use of the two-day-a-month furlough program as a permissible means of achieving the reduction of state employee compensation mandated by the act.

Accordingly, we conclude that the 2009 budget legislation validated the Governor’s furlough program here at issue, and reject plaintiffs’ challenge to that program.

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