A California judge on Thursday ruled that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger abused his discretion in ordering furloughs of state workers, dealing a blow to the administration's efforts to cope with the state's fiscal crisis.
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch said the administration must halt the furloughs for workers represented by three unions, including Service Employees International Union Local 1000, which represents 95,000 state employees.
He ruled against Schwarzenegger's furlough orders on two fronts: He said the administration could not take the action against employees in so-called "special fund" agencies, or those that receive money from sources other than the state general fund. He also said Schwarzenegger had overstepped his authority by claiming the furloughs were necessary to deal with a budgetary emergency.
Roesch said the governor can overstep the Legislature's normal authority in an emergency only for a temporary period, a period the judge said ended once the Legislature approved the state budget.
"The Executive Orders themselves appear to recognize that the emergency necessitating them was the failure of the Legislature to pass the budgets, though the reach of the orders extended long after those budgets were subsequently passed and signed into law," the judge wrote.
Schwarzenegger this year forced most state employees to take three days off a month without pay as the state faced a massive budget deficit. The mandatory furloughs, which began in February and were extended over the summer, affected about 200,000 state workers and were expected to save the state $2 billion.
Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear said the administration would appeal Thursday's decision. An appeal would automatically stay the ruling.
"In these tough economic times, there's no reason why state workers should be shielded from the same economic reality that the rest of the state faces," he said.
SEIU spokesman Jim Zamora said the ruling could affect up to 50,000 employees across state government who work at agencies that do not rely on the general fund.
"We are gratified that the judge saw through the governor's smoke screen and ruled that these furloughs are illegal," he said.
The ruling cannot be seen as a total victory for state employees, however. About two dozen lawsuits have been filed over the furloughs, and the administration has prevailed in the initial stages on some of them.