Observers Say California Supreme Court Likely to Uphold Furloughs

September 9, 2010

California is one of about a dozen states that is furloughing state employees this year, something the fiscally disastrous Golden State has done for some time. Since he started ordering the furloughs, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) has used the threat of them to negotiate for pension reforms and other work rule changes. Some 30 lawsuits challenging the legality of the furloughs have been filed, including one in which the California Supreme Court heard oral arguments this week.

The question comes down to whether the governor has the power to order furloughs unilaterally, as he did in February 2009. Attorneys for the state workers argue that the governor has the power to fire government workers, but not to order furloughs. (I’m not so sure – unilaterally changing a binding agreement seems worse than voiding the agreement.) The justices seemed skeptical, remarking that layoffs seem more drastic than furloughs. Other justices suggested that the Legislature’s subsequent approval of a budget revision accounting for the furloughs might mean tacit consent.

The court also heard arguments on a case involving Schwarzenegger’s reduction of state spending as part of his line-item veto powers.

More on California here.

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