Many local state employees and nonprofits that depend on state funding are facing uncertainty and anxiety as lawmakers in Sacramento fail to adopt a state budget, which, as of press time, was more than five weeks late.
The impasse prompted Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to sign an executive order laying off approximately 22,000 state workers, and reducing about 200,000 other state employee salaries to minimum wage pending a new budget. As a result, many state employees lucky enough to still receive a paycheck are wondering how much their salary will be.
“The fact is, we don’t know whose salary will be reduced to minimum wage,” said Caltrans District 5 Safety Officer Mike Mendoza. “There’s so many rumors coming out of Sacramento right now, we don’t know what to believe. We’re trying to keep morale up, but there’s a good chance many of us will get a short check later this month.”
The Equal Opportunity Commission, which administers a range of community programs for the county, has had to resort to loans to continue operating.
Joan Limov, the chief financial officer for the EOC, said that daycare providers may not be paid as scheduled later this month. Children’s services are taking the biggest hit.
Eventually, Limov said, the providers may have to turn families away.
Schwarzenegger’s wage order provides that workers be paid the federal minimum wage of $6.55 per hour, as compared to California’s minimum wage of $8. Lost wages would be reimbursed sometime after a budget is enacted. To further add to the tension, a recent letter from administrative personnel to the state controller indicated that of the 200,000 employees facing pay cuts, 48,000 would be exempt. It’s unclear to many state workers who will be spared minimum wage, prompting some employees to speculate that the administration is labeling certain jobs more important than others.
Among the state workers laid off, seasonal and retired annuity employees were first to go. Agencies such as the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Department of Parks and Recreation, which rely heavily on such groups, were the hardest hit, according to Mendoza. Managers from those agencies stated that they were unable to comment on the situation, instead deferring questions to the Governor’s press office. Agencies such as the California Highway Patrol and the Department of Corrections, on the other hand, while still threatened by temporary pay cuts, are likely to be less affected by layoffs.
“The biggest issue for us is the minimum wage issue. We don’t know if we’re going to be affected by that yet,” said Lt. Mike Siebert, who works at the California Men’s Colony. “But we’ve been through similar situations before. It hasn’t affected our operations.”