California budget has money for promised raise for state workers, but little else

Published: Friday, Jan. 11, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3A
Last Modified: Monday, Jan. 14, 2013 - 8:44 am

With state employee contract talks just weeks away, Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday rolled out a budget that included money for long-promised pay raises and little else – at least for next year.

California state government would pay about $501 million more for its employees in fiscal 2013-14, according to the governor's proposal, while the number of positions would remain essentially flat.

Higher benefit expenses and a deferred pay increase negotiated with unions in 2009 and 2010 contribute to the higher employee costs.

The $97.7 billion budget plan doesn't call for extending the one-day-per-month furloughs set to expire at the end of the current fiscal year. Nor does it contain money for other raises for new contracts.

"There were no real surprises," said Craig Brown, a lobbyist for two state employee unions.

Brown's budget is the first in several years that doesn't cut either the number of workers or their pay. A majority of the state's 143,000 employees at the top step of their job class are looking forward to raises of between 2 percent and 5 percent in July.

State workers have been paying more for their pensions in the past two years. The raises offset the higher contributions going forward.

Brown's budget increases the executive branch's annual per-position cost from $67,000 this year to about $70,000 next year. The number of employees under his authority would hold at 216,000. Total salary: $15.7 billion.

The Democratic governor's kinder, gentler treatment of his employees has its critics.

Senate Republican leader Bob Huff fired off a Thursday news release blasting Brown's plan to grow the general fund by $5 billion.

"Much of this money is used to expand state programs and provides major pay and benefit increases for state employees," Huff said.

Asked whether he was referring to the pay increase, Huff replied in an email, "It's (that) plus the fact that one-day-per-month furloughs go away" while the state's costs for benefits also are rising.

Huff also figures that the unions will negotiate "unspecified future pay raises" that will hike costs.

That's possible. Even though Brown's proposal leaves no room for them to negotiate more money for 2013-14, they could bargain for another round of deferred raises or for immediate non-monetary benefits, such as more paid leave.

"Of necessity, contract negotiations occur in the shadow of the governor's budget," said Patrick Whalen, spokesman for the state attorneys' union. "I don't know that we're content to say all forms of compensation are off the table."

Brown on Thursday demurred when reporters asked about upcoming contract talks, citing his obligation to bargain in good faith.

"We have to enter those negotiations with an open mind, but we have to live within our means. So I don't want to put too many of my cards on the table," Brown told reporters, "Although everything's in the budget, so you can figure out sort of what the outside parameters are."

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Read more articles by Jon Ortiz

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