Here is why it is nearly impossible to fix the state budget.
This story starts in December 2008. Facing a $42 billion budget shortfall, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger issued an executive order to create two furlough days per month for the state's 238,000 employees. (Be it noted that Schwarzenegger essentially has two tools -- furloughs and layoffs -- that he can use unilaterally to cut spending.) In July, Schwarzenegger added a third day. The Legislature passed budgets with the Schwarzenegger furloughs.
Of course, public employee unions have challenged the furloughs, which is their right. State employees have had to endure a painful 14 percent pay cut.
Here's the problem. State employee unions have filed not one, but at least 25 lawsuits against the furloughs.
Early on, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Patrick Marlette ruled that the governor had the authority to impose temporary furloughs.
No worries; labor groups filed suits in different courts presenting various arguments against the furloughs. They eventually found judges who ruled in their favor. Some might call this "judge shopping."
SEIU attorney Felix De La Torre disagrees. "If there is any forum-shopping happening," he said, "it probably is from the governor's office" trying to redirect cases to Marlette.
De La Torre also argued that a number of these furloughs "make no sense." Some needlessly hurt employees not paid through the state's General Fund. Agencies like the Employment Development Department need more people, not fewer. And: "You cannot separate a furlough from a reduction in services."
Apparently, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch agreed. In December, Roesch declared that furloughs for some 65,000 employees, whose departments are financed out side the General Fund, violate a law that sets the state employees' workweek at 40 hours. He issued an order last month to end Furlough Fridays for those workers.
An appellate judge stayed the stay -- so furloughs are still happening.
Meanwhile, the legal bills mount. Department of Personnel Administration of spokesperson Lynelle Jolley figures the state has spent $590,000 thus far on outside attorneys -- and that does not include the court costs for processing this bounty of litigation. Thus, Schwarzenegger asked the California Supreme Court to consolidate seven of the lawsuits and rule on them promptly.