Budget brinksmanship

Shame on you, governor, for stressing out workers to pressure legislators

OK, we get it—California’s got budget issues. The state is on an unsustainable trajectory, no thanks to deadlocked legislators, and that’s unacceptable to our sustainability governor. He’s gotta shake things up, or it’ll just be business as usual in Sacramento.

We get it.

What we don’t get is why Gov. Schwarzenegger thinks threatening our most vulnerable citizens is the right way to achieve his aims. That’s what he’s done twice now with brinksmanship moves that put workers and the needy in jeopardy.

First, he put out a proposed budget that slashed 10 percent across the board. The intent was to light a fire under the Legislature by hitting every member in a tender spot. The result was a scramble by local governments to make contingency plans for a plan that had no chance of being implemented, because even the most oblivious politician understands that all departments aren’t equal—that slashing health services has more drastic consequences than making cuts in, say, the California Council for the Humanities or the High-Speed Rail Authority.

His latest threat was even worse: If there’s no budget before Aug. 1, he’d sign an executive order to reduce 200,000 workers’ pay to the federal minimum wage until a budget passes. That pay level is $6.55 an hour—$1.45 below the state’s minimum wage. On top of that, the governor would lay off 22,000 temporary workers.

The suggestion is so outrageous that Controller John Chiang planned to disregard it and continue paying workers their normal wages.

The budget impasse may be over by the time you read this, but the point is far from moot. The governor is willing to play Russian roulette with others’ livelihoods—heck, their lives—as a political ploy. Yes, the budget is important, and yes, delayed passage leaves vendors and contractors in limbo. Putting stress on other Californians isn’t the way to pressure legislators.