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Calif. governor sues to furlough more workers

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger sued the state's Democratic controller Monday, trying to force furloughs for 15,000 more government workers to address California's $42 billion deficit.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger sued the state's Democratic controller Monday, trying to force furloughs for 15,000 more government workers to address California's $42 billion deficit.

The Republican governor already ordered more than 200,000 state government workers to take two days off each month without pay and projected it would save $1.3 billion through June 2010. The first furlough day was last Friday.

But the court ruling that upheld Schwarzenegger's authority to order the furloughs did not address employees of state constitutional officers or members of a tax panel, the Board of Equalization.

The lawsuit filed Monday seeks an injunction that would force Controller John Chiang to reduce the hours of those employees. Chiang's office cuts the checks to state workers.

'Absolutely worth it'
Furloughing the 15,000 employees in the constitutional offices and the tax board will save $93.2 million, according the governor's finance department.

"This is absolutely worth it," Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear said about the lawsuit. "Every amount that state government can save is less of a burden on the taxpayers of California."

In addition to the governor and controller, California's constitutional officers include the lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer, insurance commissioner and superintendent of public instruction. The seven other officers have said they will not comply with Schwarzenegger's furlough order.

Monday's lawsuit marks the second time in six months that the Republican governor and Chiang, a Democrat, have clashed over budget-related issues. During last summer's stalemate, Chiang challenged the governor's order to roll back salaries for thousands of state workers to the federal minimum wage of $6.55 per hour.

That issue remains before the courts.

The controller's office declined comment on Schwarzenegger's latest legal challenge because it had not received a copy of the complaint, but it maintains the previous court ruling does not apply to employees of constitutional officers.

"There was no court order requiring the controller to cut pay," said Garin Casaleggio, a spokesman for Chiang.

Schwarzenegger's attorneys argued the judge's ruling applied to all state employees represented by labor organizations. The lawsuit noted that about 11,000 employees who report to constitutional officers and the Board of Equalization are unionized. The other 4,000 would be managers and others not covered by a bargaining group.

The Professional Engineers in California Government and California Association of Professional Scientists had challenged Schwarzenegger's executive order after he signed it in December. Other labor groups representing attorneys, Department of Motor Vehicle workers, prison guards and firefighters subsequently filed separate claims.

Labor leaders said they supported Chiang's decision not to furlough the workers.

"We filed our suit based on the firm belief that none of the furloughs were constitutional," said Bruce Blanning, executive director of the engineers union.

Last Friday marked the first furlough in state history, shutting Department of Motor Vehicle offices and other state agencies.

Offices deemed critical to public safety and those that generate revenue, such as state parks, remained opened. Employment centers also stayed open to handle California's swelling ranks of unemployed.

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