California is America’s most populous state and it might be on the verge of a financial collapse. If this is happening in California, how long will it be before this same type of financial monsoon slams into your state?
More than 200,000 state government employees are expected to stay home without pay today as California began it’s first-ever furlough (involuntary unpaid leave of absence), a move intended to save money during the ongoing fiscal crisis.
State agencies scrambled in the days before the furloughs took effect to avoid confusion for the public, such as people trying to register vehicles, getting drivers license or trying obtain professional licenses or city permits.
Among the offices to be closed Friday are those of the Department of Motor Vehicles and Department of Consumer Affairs. The governor’s Office of Emergency Services also would be dark as part of a cash-saving move ordered by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Critical and revenue-generating agencies were scheduled to remain open, including police precincts, fire stations, parks and employment centers that process unemployment insurance claims. California’s unemployment rate is 9.3 percent — a 15-year high.
Schwarzenegger ordered the two-day-a-month furloughs, reducing the average state worker’s salary by 9.2 percent, as he and lawmakers try to solve the state’s $42 billion budget shortfall.
The governor had hoped his order would apply to some 238,000 state employees, but each of the seven other constitutional officers have said they will not comply. Employees of the Legislature are not under his authority.
Schwarzenegger’s legal affairs secretary, Andrea Hoch, said the administration was prepared to sue the state controller if he did not reduce paychecks for more than 15,000 workers in the other constitutional offices, which include the attorney general, secretary of state and insurance commissioner.
A judge who affirmed Schwarzenegger’s authority to order the furloughs said his ruling did not apply to statewide elected officials because they were not a party to the lawsuit. The administration has maintained that employees of constitutional offices are covered by the furlough order.
Doors to about 180 DMV offices were to be locked Friday. Some people said the state gave little notice to the public about the furloughs, which will continue on the first and third Fridays of each month through June 2010.
“They don’t have any signs telling us about Friday,” said Ingrid Dela Cruz of Sacramento, who was inside a Sacramento DMV office on Thursday.
In fact, there were plenty of signs, but they were posted in locations invisible to most customers because they were hidden behind sliding glass doors.
Schwarzenegger’s administration estimated that cutting worker hours would save the state $1.3 billion over the next year-and-a-half.
The state decided to keep some 250 career centers open after previously announcing they would be closed. The centers are where the unemployed get information about job training and benefits.
Dan Gurule, a police officer at the state mental hospital in Norwalk, said the state would have to pay overtime at 24-hour facilities to those workers who backfill the shifts of people on furlough. Five state mental hospitals and 33 adult prisons are required to provide constant care to patients and inmates.
“Somebody has to fill in my position,” Gurule said. “We still have to have a minimum staffing. That’s going to be someone on overtime, being paid time-and-a-half.”
California is not the only state on the brink of a financial disaster. The state of Florida still has a balanced budget — for the time being — but barely. Governor Charlie Crist has acknowledged that “this economy is struggling greatly.” He has co-signed a letter with Governor Jim Doyle of Wisconsin, a Democrat, supporting Obama’s stimulus package and encouraging all governors to do the same. “If President Obama sees a need for Republican assistance with his stimulus plan, I’m happy to do that,” said Crist.
He sees in Obama and his recovery plan “lifelines of hope to persevere.” “There is a level of optimism that is not detached from reality. … I see the glass as half-full —and not without reason. … My optimism does relate to the stimulus plan.”
Many Governors and Mayors support President Obama’s Stimulus Plan since they are on the front lines and see the crises up close and personal on a daily basis.
Governors and Mayors do not want to see police precincts and fire stations closed. Nor do they want to see thousands upon thousands of teachers losing their jobs which will cause classroom sizes to increase or schools to close.
Governors and Mayors do not want to see the millions of unemployed Americans lose their unemployment insurance and lose the ability to pay for food, utilities, rent/mortgage, taxes, car loans and the necessities of life.
I urge you to contact your Senators and Congresspersons from both Houses and encourage them to get together, make the necessary revisions and get this stimulus plan passed for the greater good of all Americans!