Tuesday, August 5, 2008

California State Attorneys to Receive No Pay During State Budget Crisis?

If this LA Times article has it right, then California state attorneys (AG's office), doctors, and engineers will receive no pay during California's state fiscal crisis?

According to the LA Times:

A large share of the state workforce will be exempt from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's order to pay government employees the federal minimum wage until a state budget is enacted, but others -- doctors, lawyers and engineers -- will get nothing, according to
documents provided by the administration Tuesday.

The State Director of Personnel issued a statement, citing White v. Davis, which says that the Controller has no "legal authority to issue warrants against the State Treasury for employee salaries except as required by federal labor law." Since state doctors, lawyers, and engineers are not covered by federal labor law, the State is free to do what they'd like with their salaries.

I'll just be honest and say that I've been kinda busy with things at work to take a good look at the actual opinion, but someone who probably does know something about this opinion believes that the state Controller will continue to issue full pay checks. Gary M. Messing, who argued in the California Supreme Court in White, representing CCPOA, writes in this blog post at PacoVilla's Corrections:

The Controller says that he will continue to issue full paychecks to State employees despite the Governor’s pending Executive Order to the contrary. That is the wisest course. The Governor errs in relying on the Supreme Court’s decision in the White v. Davis case to support his proposed reduction of State employee paychecks to the federal minimum wage in the absence of a state budget. Here is why.

Five years ago in White v. Davis, the California Supreme Court addressed a similar situation. Several taxpayer groups sued to prevent State employees from being paid in the absence of a budget. The Court ruled that the federal Fair Labor Standard Act requires prompt issuance of paychecks, which are due on the normal payday.

The rest of his post fleshes out his argument and well worth reading.

Like I said, I haven't actually read the opinion, but I trust that Mr. Messing, a labor attorney, does have a pretty decent idea of what he's talking about. So, until I'm proven wrong, I'll have to take his work that the Controller will be able to continue issuing checks.

As a closing remark, folks always used to say that people flocked to government work for job stability. Especially for attorneys. But, honestly, I've heard that the smaller the governmental organization, the better it is.

As California always seems to be in some sort of fiscal crisis, I can't imagine this being very good for attorney retention and recruitment. I mean, I can't imagine a Big Law refugee or some other private side attorney hoping to switch to the public side might think it a good idea to switch to a job where they might, literally, not make any money. Most attorneys switch to government side because of flexibility in schedule and job security with a trade off of a lower salary. But the ability to make a briefing deadline and the ability to make a mortgage payment tend to both evoke high levels of stress. Given a choice, I think I'd rather worry about making a briefing deadline than lose my house because the state can't get its act together.

Of course there will always be some people applying to be a state AG. But will this sort of political turmoil diminish the quality of candidate who applies? For sure, someone like me, a law student, with no experience will apply for a job- because, well, I have no job as of yet. But will an experienced practitioner with a family take the risk of politics getting in the way of getting a pay check? Probably not.

Indeed, there are many more considerably important issues to consider in this fiscal crisis other than smarmy attorneys, doctors, and engineers getting their relatively cushy paychecks. But, it's certainly something to think about. I hope the Pols in Sacramento can quit foolin around and get something done.

1 comment:

aphrael said...

On the other side, if the legislature hasn't authorized the state to spend money, from where does the authorization flow?

It isn't practical in the least to do this, but I really think that if the legislature doesn't authorize the executive to spend money, the executive can't spend money.