Our Wild West Politics

Welcome to the latest episode of “Wild West Politics, California-Style,” a show where everyone would rather fight than switch.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger comes out ahead in this installment, after
Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Patrick Marlette says he can go ahead with his plan to furlough state workers two Fridays a month starting next week.

But unions representing state employees plan to press on. And the state’s
Democractic department heads are refusing to participate. The Legislature’s not going along either, though Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg says he’ll craft a voluntary furlough program.

At least state Controller John Chiang’s on board now, saying he’ll implement the furloughs after initially siding with the unions in the court battle.

Marlette
said Thursday the state’s budget crisis represents an emergency and the
governor’s order was “reasonable and necessary under the circumstances.”

Finally,
someone recognizes that things are pretty bad here — bad to the point
where business as usual doesn’t work. Too bad the politicians can’t
come to a similar realization and stop the sniping.

The
furloughs are estimated to save $1.3 billion over the next year and a
half, an amount that teeters toward the chump-change side of the ledger
when you consider the $40 billion heft of the shortfall, but at least
it’s a start. Or it would be if Marlette’s order meant an end to the
drama that’s played since Schwarzenegger announced the plan back in
December. The Service Employees International Union, which represents
part of the roughly 235,000 state employees, already has filed a grievance with the Public Employees Relations Board.

Schwarzenegger also was ready to fire back if he’d lost Thursday, vowing on the eve of the hearing to lay off enough workers to make up the $1.3 billion if the furloughs were blocked.

It’s
a sad, sad situation for state workers, for whom the two unpaid days a
month would amount to a 10 percent pay cut. There’s no denying the
financial loss will hit many hard, particularly the ones on the lower
end of the pay scale. But, still,
furloughs are happening in private and public sectors across country without the process being nearly as painful as the on-going Sacramento saga.

They’re even happening elsewhere in California. Teachers in San Jose
agreed to furloughs to help the district balance its budget, though
they OK’d 1 percent cuts, not 10. But because of the long-standing ill
will between Schwarzenegger and the union, not to mention the
childishly head-strong predisposition for partisan politics to color
everything in Sacramento these days, California can’t pull this off
without a blood bath.

Contrast that to the situation at an Owens-Corning plant in New Jersey, where the union agreed to up to 93 furlough days this year. At least some folks recognize a crisis when they see one.

Seems the judge is the only person involved in the furlough issue to realize that.

“This state is in a huge mess . . . the scope of which is unprecedented,” Marlette said Thursday.

Some California state workers realize that, too.

In a recent email to the The Sacramento Bee Kendall Koller wrote, “We
feel betrayed (again) by the governor … but we would rather take a pay
cut than see co-workers and friends sent packing into the turbulent,
and honestly, scary world of the unemployed,”

At least she’s trying to look on the bright side.