California's first-ever furloughs began Friday with more than 200,000 state workers expected to stay home without pay amid the state's fiscal crisis.
Among the offices forced to close Friday were the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Department of Consumer Affairs. The governor's Office of Emergency Services also was dark as part of the cash-saving move ordered by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Critical and revenue-generating agencies remained open, including fire stations, parks and employment centers that process unemployment insurance claims. California's unemployment rate is 9.3 percent, a 15-year high.
At the state Department of Transportation, a handful of engineers showed up to work without pay because they didn't want to get behind on projects they said were important to public safety.
Stan Slavin, an electrical engineer working on a traffic project in the San Francisco Bay area, said his partners at local agencies will be on the job so he was, too.
State agencies scrambled in the days before the furloughs took effect to avoid confusion for the public, such as people trying to register vehicles or obtain professional licenses.
Schwarzenegger ordered the two-day-a-month furloughs, reducing the average state worker's salary by 9.2 percent, as he and lawmakers try to solve the state's $42 billion budget shortfall.
The governor had hoped his order would apply to some 238,000 state employees, but each of the seven other constitutional officers have said they will not comply. Employees of the Legislature are not under his authority.
Schwarzenegger's legal affairs secretary, Andrea Hoch, said the administration was prepared to sue the state controller if he did not reduce paychecks for more than 15,000 workers in the other constitutional offices, which include the attorney general, secretary of state and insurance commissioner.
A judge who affirmed Schwarzenegger's authority to order the furloughs said his ruling did not apply to statewide elected officials because they were not a party to the lawsuit. The administration has maintained that employees of constitutional offices are covered by the furlough order.
Doors to about 180 DMV offices were locked Friday. Some people said the state gave little notice to the public about the furloughs, which will continue on the first and third Fridays of each month through June 2010.
"They don't have any signs telling us about Friday," said Ingrid Dela Cruz of Sacramento, who was inside a Sacramento DMV office on Thursday.
In fact, there were plenty of signs, but they were posted in locations invisible to most customers because they were hidden behind sliding glass doors.
A billion in savings?
Schwarzenegger's administration estimated that cutting worker hours would save the state $1.3 billion over the next year-and-a-half.
The state decided to keep some 250 career centers open after previously announcing they would be closed. The centers are where the unemployed get information about job training and benefits.
Labor leaders said the furloughs could have been prevented. Jim Zamora, spokesman for Service Employees International Union, Local 1000, said the administration did not respond to the union's latest contract proposal, which he said included alternatives.
"More than a week ago, Local 1000 presented the governor's negotiators with a deal that would have prevented the closure of state offices, created an orderly, flexible and manageable furlough process, prevented chaos and saved the state hundreds of millions of dollars," Zamora said in a statement.
Lynelle Jolley, whose office is negotiating with the union, declined to respond.
Some employees questioned whether the furloughs would result in taxpayer savings.
Filling in to keep up
Dan Gurule, a police officer at the state mental hospital in Norwalk, said the state would have to pay overtime at 24-hour facilities to those workers who backfill the shifts of people on furlough.
Five state mental hospitals and 33 adult prisons are required to provide constant care to patients and inmates.
"Somebody has to fill in my position," Gurule said. "We still have to have a minimum staffing. That's going to be someone on overtime, being paid time-and-a-half."
But the furlough may not be all that bad for state workers.
Squaw Valley ski resort at Lake Tahoe was offering $30 lift tickets — a $49 savings — on furlough days to state employees who show a valid state identification card or recent pay stub. Boreal ski resort also has a promotion in which state employees can ski or snowboard every Friday for the rest of the season for $20.