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California Supreme Court to rule on state worker furloughs

A California Department of Motor Vehicles customer looks at a closed sign posted on the door of a DMV branch July 10, 2009 in Corte Madera, California.
A California Department of Motor Vehicles customer looks at a closed sign posted on the door of a DMV branch July 10, 2009 in Corte Madera, California.
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California’s highest court will issue a ruling this morning at 10 a.m. on whether the governor can order state workers to take unpaid time off when there’s no budget in place. A ruling that favors government employees could increase California’s $19 billion deficit.

Governor Schwarzenegger ordered state workers to stay home without pay three days a month last year. That saved California $2 billion. But 200,000 state workers lost an average 14 percent of their salaries.

The governor claims he has the authority to furlough them when there’s no operating budget in place by July 1 — the start of the state’s fiscal year.

Unions for government employees say only the legislature has the power to furlough them. They sued the governor for overstepping his authority.

The California Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the matter last month.

If the judges side with the workers, California might have to repay state employees wages — with interest — for last year’s furloughs and maybe even for the ones Schwarzenegger just ordered in August. The governor renewed the furloughs to conserve cash because the budget’s late again.