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Senate OKs 3% Temporary Raise for State Workers

Salaries: Measure faces uncertain future in Assembly. Funds for fire department also are approved.

May 09, 1997|CARL INGRAM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — The Senate broke a partisan stalemate Thursday and voted to give state employees a temporary 3% pay raise and enable the state fire department to pay its bills.

The monthlong deadlock ended when three Republicans bolted from party ranks and endorsed the Democrat-backed $73-million pay increase for civil service and other employees.

The salary hike approval cleared the way for a bill that would appropriate $69 million in emergency funds so the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection can pay its suppliers.

Both bills went to the Assembly, where the pay proposal is expected to be opposed by minority Republicans, whose votes are needed to pass it. Gov. Pete Wilson also is against the bill, arguing that employee pay raises belong in the state budget rather than in piecemeal bills.

Wilson warned Thursday that he would veto the pay raise if it reached him. "The governor has no intention of approving this raise for state employees, and the Democrats know that," spokesman Steve Tatum said.

He said Wilson intends to sign the fire department bill (AB 169). The department's creditors--such as gasoline suppliers--have threatened to quit doing business with the agency unless they are guaranteed payment.

Senate Democrats, led by President Pro Tem Bill Lockyer of Hayward, have linked the pay raise bill to the emergency allocation for the forestry department in the hope of pressuring Wilson to sign it.

Lockyer said state employees deserve a pay raise, even if it lasts only until the end of the fiscal year on June 30, because they have gone three years without an increase. Public employee unions are major supporters of Democrats at election time.

But in the face of criticism that the forestry department was being held hostage even as a bone-dry California faces an early fire season, Democrats abandoned their linkage tactic and separated the bills Thursday.

Three Senate Republicans and an independent provided Democrats the necessary votes they needed for a two-thirds majority of 27. The bill (SB 1192) passed 27-12. The Republicans were Sens. Jim Brulte of Rancho Cucamonga, William A. Craven of Oceanside and Maurice K. Johannessen of Redding.

The forestry department bill, by Assemblyman Tom J. Bordonaro Jr. (R-Paso Robles), won unanimous approval, 38-0, a few minutes later.

During brief debate, Senate Republican leader Rob Hurtt of Garden Grove called a hasty timeout, saying he was puzzled about compromise technical amendments that Democrats said had been negotiated with Wilson's representatives.

As Hurtt ran for a telephone to call Wilson, Lockyer put the forestry department bill to a vote. Later, Hurtt told reporters he was uncertain whether Wilson had actually compromised with Democrats on amendments or whether the Democrats were "just making up stuff."

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