Layoffs Possible for 22,000 California State Workers

The California Department of Motor Vehicles, infamous for its long lines, recently cut in half the wait to get a driver's license. The agency accomplished the feat largely by hiring part-time employees.

Residents may have to get reacquainted to long lines thanks to the state's fiscal crisis. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is threatening to sign an executive order laying off temporary, part-time and contract state workers.

About 22,000 such workers face layoffs. That could mean fewer DMV workers, fewer food safety inspections and cutbacks in the programs that stock fish in the state's rivers and lakes, as well as other consequences.

The governor also was expected to order that many of the 200,000 regular state employees under his control be paid the federal minimum wage of $6.55 an hour until a state budget is passed.

Schwarzenegger issued the threat last week after he grew frustrated with lawmakers' inability to reach a budget deal for the fiscal year that started July 1. He was expected to sign the executive order Thursday, the first day of the August pay period.

Schwarzenegger's order is designed in part as a way to pressure lawmakers to strike a budget deal quickly, but it also is expected to prompt immediate challenges.

Lawmakers have failed to agree on a spending plan for the fiscal year that began July 1, arguing over whether they should enact tax increases or steep cuts to close a $15.2 billion deficit.

The workers receiving the federal minimum wage will be reimbursed for their full salaries once a budget deal is reached. The others will simply be out of work.

Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear said law enforcement, emergency, disaster and other critical workers would be exempt from the executive order.

The federal court-appointed receiver who runs the state prison health care system on Wednesday exempted all his state employees from the cutbacks.

Controller John Chiang, a Democrat, said he will defy Schwarzenegger and keep sending permanent employees their full checks, rather than paying them minimum wage. State employee unions promise to seek injunctions blocking the entire executive order.

Both concede the governor likely has the power to lay off the seasonal and part-time workers.

Schwarzenegger said he has little choice because the state could run out of cash without a budget. The administration projects that firing the employees, ending contracts and suspending overtime would save the state about $100 million a month.

"Being governor, I have to make sure that we pay our bills and that we have the money," Schwarzenegger said at a news conference on Tuesday.

While many state workers can get low-interest loans until they receive back wages, Kim Croff, 44, of Carmichael, is one of those set to lose her DMV job with little savings as a cushion.

"I'm very worried. Unemployment is up, jobs are very scarce. There's no one really hiring. The economy is really bad," Croff said while workers protested the pending cuts during their lunch hour Wednesday. "It takes a toll on you, just worrying about it."

Jim Zamora, spokesman for Service Employees International Union, said seasonal fruit and vegetable inspectors also might be laid off — "the people who protect you from salmonella."

"By getting rid of them at this time of year, you're potentially creating problems for the state," he said.

The governor's office said it's not clear whether food inspectors would be subject to the executive order.