Budgeting a Day Off to Save the Day

On Jan. 31, Sacramento announced its solution to save $1.3 billion by next June: furloughs. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s latest plan is to force 238,000 state employees to take an extra two unpaid days off each month. Starting this month, the first and third Friday of each month are mandatory unpaid days off. Fridays are typically less busy for public agencies, which allows the state to save the cost of paying the employees as well as the utility costs of keeping facilities open.
Schwarzenegger’s new plan amounts to a 9 percent pay cut for those employed as engineers, nurses, DMV clerks, pharmacists, social workers, computer programmers, Caltrans maintenance workers, state commissioners, attorneys not working for the state attorney’s office and ironically, unemployment caseworkers.
The University of California, the California State University and the community colleges are safe. So are the California Highway Patrol, hospitals and prisons. State parks will also remain open because they bring in revenue. To summarize, traffic will get worse, you won’t be able to find a job and lines at the DMV will get longer, but you can still get a ticket. Consider it the equivalent of hitting rock bottom and asking for a jackhammer.
In a time when Californians need all the money they can to pay for their homes, cars and educations, they are told to do more with less, to get by despite the unmanageable financial circumstances.
But the sad news is that it was the right move. It was either furloughs or the state would have to go directly to layoffs, which would hurt Californians even more. Either keep everyone running at 90 percent or reduce the overall number of workers who are allowed to work at 100 percent. These pay modifications seem to be a temporary modification and for once in his life Schwarzenegger appears to have heeded the advice of his advisors. Too bad he doesn’t do it more often.
It does not help that our representatives have been fighting in the state capital for what feels like months now, unable to reach a decision. The Democrats blame the economic disaster on the deregulation of the financial sector during previous administrations, while conservatives warn that taxing and decreasing the amount of disposable income in this economic environment is not a solution. It took them until now to actually sit in a room and discuss a budget for the upcoming year.
While Sacramento sits, the economic downturn’s effects spiral outward to the rest of the state. Those in the private sector are also affected. All these state workers who now lost 10 percent of their salary are all tightening the financial belt; that’s money they won’t be spending watching movies, eating out, buying clothes, cars, iPods and Jamba Juice.
As a Californian, I want to say that things will get better and that changes will take place. In this difficult crisis, our economy is going to go further down before it goes up at all. And though State Controller John Chiang is fighting the furloughs for the workers on the steps of the quiet state capital and in and outside of the courthouse, there is no other choice but to take the lesser of two evils.
Many of the budget problems surfaced because our prison population continues to soar. And because those housed in correctional facilities are given basic care and treatment (healthcare that in some cases is better than what they could get as freed citizens), our budget continues to be strained. Since we are required to give our ever growing prison population a certain standard of care, there are fewer dollars for everyone else.
Schools have already begun to feel the budget cuts. For the first time in its inception, the UC system may turn down applicants who meet the minimum qualifications. Public schools may lose a week of instruction. Now, state workers are forced to deal with a pay cut. At some point, even Peter the Anteater won’t be able to get the classes he wants because the university cannot afford to offer them twice in a school year.
We’ve made it through worse times before and we’ll do it again. Right now, it is important that we duck our heads and ride out the storm. It may be bad now, but there is a lot of hope that California will turn around. The question is: What are you going to do to help turn it around?

Harry Nguyen is a third-year biological sciences and criminology, law and society double-major. He can be reached at harryn@uci.edu.