Sunday, 19 May 2024

State agencies deal with budget crunch on the local level

LAKE COUNTY – The state's budget impasse is impacting state agencies that operate at the local level.

Late last month, with no state budget in sight, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger directed all state agencies to add a third furlough day each month for all state employees beginning July 1.

In December, Schwarzenegger had ordered two furlough days per month for employees as he tried to conserve the state's dwindling cash. Those furloughs started in February.

In response to the latest furlough order, Caltrans reported that their offices will be closed three Fridays per month. That went into effect on July 10.

Caltrans spokesman Phil Frisbie reported that highway construction projects will continue on furlough days and will not be impacted, but Caltrans highway maintenance staff will be furloughed on

these days.

Similar to weekends and holidays, staff will be on call to respond to emergency situations, he added.

“The furlough days are decreasing the number of hours our highway maintenance staff can work each month, which will reduce the amount of work they can accomplish,” he told Lake County News. “They will continue to prioritize their work load to ensure that the most important work is completed.”

State legislators' offices also are feeling the pinch.

David Miller, spokesman for Sen. Pat Wiggins, said that, effective July 1, all Senate staff had their vision and dental benefits reduced. In addition, all Senate staff earning $50,000 or more also had their pay reduced 5 percent via one furlough day per month.

How those furlough days might affect Senate staffs' workload isn't known yet; Miller said they won't being taking the furloughs until after the budget agreement is signed.

Miller said Wiggins already cut her own pay 5 percent, cut her per diem by 18 percent and gave up her car allowance.

He said Wiggins' offices are getting a steady volume of constituent visits and calls advocating one budget approach or another – for example, more cuts or more taxes. They're also getting requests for assistance. Many people also have called to thank Wiggins for giving up some of her financial benefits.

Miller said he expects few people will be happy with the budget agreement that eventually is passed and signed, so they'll likely have more calls then, too.

Andrew Bird, spokesman for Assemblyman Wes Chesbro's office, said the Assembly has approached the budget issues different than the Senate.

“The Assembly is not doing furlough days at this time,” Bird said.

The reason, he explained, is that, several months ago, the Assembly slashed its budget 10 percent.

Also maintaining regular working hours is the California Highway Patrol.

Jaime Coffee, a spokesperson for the CHP's Sacramento office, said that, due to the agency's “mission of public safety and the critical nature of every CHP employee,” it will maintain normal working hours, and that means remaining open during the furloughs on the first, second and third Friday of every month.

Uniform personnel are exempt from the state's furlough program, said Coffee, and there will be no reduction in patrol services or response time to public calls for service.

The CHP, Coffee added, is funded by the Motor Vehicle Account, not the state's general fund.

Still, nonuniform employees will adhere to the furlough directive, but schedules will be arranged so that it doesn't affect opening hours, Coffee said.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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