Governor Schwarzenegger issued an executive order on Wednesday that would force State workers to accept an hourly pay rate of $7.25 (the State and Federal minimum wage) until the State budget is passed.
Partisan bickering has tied up the California State Legislature for months, creating an impasse to a final vote on a budget for Fiscal Year 2010-2011.
The State of California is already in a $19 billion deficit. The move would put about 130,000 California State workers’ pay rate at minimum wage until the budget is passed. Of the 200,000 State workers, some union workers would be exempt from the measure. State workers earn on average $56,536.16 per year. In total, this would hardly save enough to fill the budget shortfall. In fact, more than 60% of state workers are employed in education and public safety. “In 2008-09, a majority of state employees (60.9 percent) worked in education – primarily in one of the state’s two university systems – or in one of the state’s public safety departments.” State workers range from educators to prison guards and “salaries and wages account for less than one-fifth of total state spending (17.8%).” (from California Budget Project website)
The effort by the Governor is designed to force compromise and to break the log-jammed budget process. It is more symbolic than it is impactful on the State’s budget deficit. State Controller John Chiang is refusing to execute the order, which is to take effect immediately. The State Controller would also be impacted by the executive order.
Gov. Schwarzenegger should order a pay freeze for himself. Practically, the order could serve an added purpose. In an executive budget where benefits for the poor, disabled and state jobs are more readily disposed of than any hint of a tax increase on the wealthy, this move would give legislators and perhaps the Governor as well, some idea of what the millions of laid off workers in California are going through.
The sentiment of many average salaried workers was expressed in an AP report from July 2, 2010 quoting one state worker as saying, “It’s a little scary,” said Smith, 39, who joined the Department of Water Resources three weeks ago. “I’ve got bills, rent, insurance, a car. I like to have groceries at home. I don’t know what this is going to do.” (By Associated Press Writers Cathy Bussewitz And Judy Lin, Associated Press Writers)
Perhaps the forced temporary wage cut would be better directed at the higher wage earning state workers and more importantly, on the legislators who continually allow the most vulnerable elements of society to languish day to day, often forcing them to decide between paying for needed medication, tuition, food on the table or a roof over their heads. (See Chart – The Gains of the Wealthiest Taxpayers Far Outpaced Those of Middle-Income Taxpayers)
Perhaps if the Governor and those in the state legislature proposing more cuts to benefits got a taste of what a sudden change in circumstances means to real people, just maybe they will be more empathetic with the millions of unemployed when resolving the budget deficit. Maybe they will realize that a tax increase of 3% on the top 5% of California earners would go a lot further and be less detrimental to the economy than more job cuts and cuts to benefits.
Tell me what you think – leave a comment.