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Sterling Example of CHP

August 01, 2003

Not every solution to California's gaping budget hole has to come from the hapless Legislature or recall-ensnared governor. The 6,000 members of the California Highway Patrol, for instance, have tentatively agreed to reduce this year's scheduled pay raise by nearly two-thirds. This is an encouraging minor sacrifice in the face of the worst budget shortfall any state has ever suffered. Leaders of the 92,000-member California State Employees Assn. say they will consider a similar deal; they should swiftly move from words to action.

All California residents will suffer in some way. The state car tax will triple, rising back to its 1998 level. Medi-Cal payments to doctors will fall. College and university fees will increase. The list goes on for 25 pages. After the cuts, the state still has to borrow $14 billion this year to get by, a debt that will weigh down economic recovery for at least the next five years.

The Highway Patrol agreed to cut this year's pay raise from 7.7% to 2.7%. In return, troopers will get one extra day off and the state will pay a larger share of their health insurance. The reduction will prevent or blunt layoffs, which would most affect younger officers with little seniority. It's a very reasonable deal that others, particularly the politically powerful prison guards, should follow.

Members of the California Correctional Peace Officers Assn. are not feeling any pinch. Because of a sweetheart deal with Gov. Gray Davis, the guards are in the midst of a five-year contract that is expected to produce overall pay increases of as much as 37%, including 7% this year. Association officials previously refused to renegotiate. Considering the hay that recall supporters will make of the association's ties to Davis, and what could befall the union under a less sympathetic governor, they should think again.

The state budget that awaits Davis' signature calls for $1.1 billion in savings from the state payroll. A CHP-style trim, if extended to all 131,000 state workers, would save about $470 million. The cuts wouldn't avert all layoffs but would considerably reduce the numbers, keeping state services, from maintenance to mental health care, closer to current levels. Accepting a smaller raise is not a huge sacrifice for state workers, who normally enjoy strong job security and excellent benefits.

The Legislature should do its part too. Since lawmakers were 29 days late in passing the budget, they should start by giving back 29 days of the $125-a-day living expenses they receive while in session. That's equal to less than 4% of their $99,000 annual pay. It's a more than fair figure, considering that others are calling for their heads.

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