SACRAMENTO (AP) — An appeals court ruled in favor of a decision by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to furlough about 15,000 employees of elected statewide officers during the height of California’s budget crisis.
The 3rd District Court of Appeal in Sacramento clarified a question about whether the governor’s 2008 order applied to employees of constitutional officers such as the controller and attorney general, who are elected by voters statewide.
Controller John Chiang had ignored Schwarzenegger’s order and the officeholders had argued that it violated their executive authority.
But the three-judge panel ruled Tuesday that the order for two-day-a-week furloughs was directed at all employees. It noted that some 11,100 of the approximately 15,000 state employees on the constitutional officers’ staffs are represented by unions.
While the plan reduced employees’ salaries, it did not interfere with the officers’ executive power to appoint employees or management of their offices, the court ruled.
“We agree that the furlough order, as subsequently endorsed and validated by the Legislature, applied to the officers’ employees, and that the controller therefore possessed a ministerial duty to implement the order as to those employees,” the court stated.
The California Supreme Court previously ruled Schwarzenegger’s order valid for all state employees because it was ratified by the Legislature. The furlough program, which had impacted more than 200,000 state employees, has since expired.
Hallye Jordan, a spokeswoman for Chiang, said the ruling Tuesday did not give the governor any new powers.
“It echoed an earlier ruling from the California Supreme Court, which found that furloughs were only made lawful with Legislative approval,” Jordan said in an email.
Lynelle Jolley, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Personnel Administration, which acts as the state’s human resources department, said the ruling “removed any ambiguity about the status of employees in constitutional offices.”
Schwarzenegger had issued an executive order on the mandatory furlough back on Dec. 19, 2008. At the time, the state faced a $15 billion shortfall for the 2008-09 fiscal year and the deficit was projected to grow to $42 billion over an 18-month period if the governor and lawmakers did not act. The state also took an unprecedented step of halting lending for an estimated 2,000 infrastructure projects to conserve cash.
The Republican administration had estimated that furloughing state workers two days a month would save $386 million from the general fund and another $285 million in other savings that year.
The order said departments were to adopt a plan to implement a furlough for state employees and supervisors “regardless of funding source.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)