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Furloughs And Overtime = Doubtful State Savings

It’s not hard to understand the desperation Governor Schwarzenegger must be feeling. After all, his approval rating at 27 percent is just five points higher than the 22 percent earned by former Governor Gray Davis just before Davis was recalled from office.


A recent drop in poll numbers is showing how disappointed Californians are with Governor Schwarzenegger and the budget cuts he's approved. We'll discuss how those budget cuts are working and if there are any other ways out of California's budget mess.

In fact, the current governor’s disapproval rating at 65 percent is identical to the percentage of Californians who approved of his performance in 2004. What a rapid descent! He certainly didn’t add to his stature this week when he included an encoded vulgar message in his veto letter to a Democratic assemblyman.

Field Poll respondents didn’t limit their displeasure to Schwarzenegger. Only 13 percent approved of the job the legislature is doing, a record low for the survey.

Certainly, Californians are disillusioned by a recession that seems to have no end. And they have reason to be disappointed that the dysfunctional state government isn’t running more smoothly with this leader whom they chose to replace Davis. After all, the Governor campaigned as a man of action.

Recently, his image wasn’t helped by his wife’s motor vehicle transgressions -- talking on a cell phone while driving and parking in a red zone.

All those are unquestionable negatives. But the really painful reason that the state’s residents might be disenchanted and distrustful of their elected officials in Sacramento is that in the name of easing a severe budget shortfall, the governor and the legislators have managed to cripple California’s ability to continue to provide higher education for its qualified students.

Severe funding reductions at public universities have resulted in mandated furloughs.

Additionally, state worker furloughs are in effect. These steps were taken without sufficient due diligence to determine if furloughs would significantly pare down the deficit.

A recently released report by the University of California, Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research and Education concludes that much of the savings from the three-day-a-month state furloughs, which reduces salaries by a painful 14 percent, will be offset by reduced revenue and increased costs and that more would be saved if the furloughs were reduced to one day each month.

But perhaps the study has some errors. After all, it was done at a public university which could have an understandable anti-furlough bias. Yet, there’s another financial downside to the furlough mandate, as calculated in a study from a senate committee appointed by the Democratic leader, Senator Darrell Steinberg. This report finds that with the furlough requirement, state workers at round-the-clock institutions must work overtime, or must work on their furlough and vacation days receiving IOUs to be paid later. The accrued cost will be many millions of dollars not anticipated. In the case of the prison health care system, the entire $108 million in projected furlough savings has been wiped out, according to the report.

Thus far, all we’ve heard from the governor’s office is that the administration would review the report’s findings. Perhaps we’ll have a response before the next Field Poll or the 2010 election when a new governor will be elected and all of the 80 members of the assembly plus half of the state senate will be chosen by the electorate. What will the voters remember about 2009 when they go to the polls next year?

Meanwhile, Wednesday, an assembly committee started “historic” discussions on legalizing marijuana to regulate the drug, tax its sale and provide billions of dollars to the state’s deteriorating economy. Since no satisfying answer to the fiscal dilemma has yet come from Sacramento, Californians may be willing to consider income from the state’s biggest cash crop.

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