SACRAMENTO — A Sacramento County judge has ruled that state Controller John Chiang exceeded his authority last summer by defying Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's order to cut the pay of state workers to the federal minimum wage in the absence of an approved budget.
In his decision, received by the Schwarzenegger administration Thursday, Superior Court Judge Timothy Frawley wrote that the controller cannot pay civil service workers more than the federal minimum wage until a spending plan is approved. Once a budget is approved, the workers must be repaid in full for the hours they worked, he said.
The ruling is moot for the moment, because state officials have approved two spending plans since the dispute over workers' pay. But for future standoffs, it handed a clear victory to Schwarzenegger, a Republican who has frequently jousted with Chiang, a Democrat elected to one of the few other constitutionally independent statewide positions.
In a statement, Schwarzenegger said the decision "confirms that if California were to face another budget impasse, the governor has the authority to control spending and make the necessary payments to keep our state functioning."
Chiang's office declined to comment on the judge's ruling, saying that the controller had not received it. He had argued in the case that he didn't have to obey Schwarzenegger or his appointees at the Department of Personnel Administration who oversee state workers, because he thought that their moves might violate federal law. The judge said the instructions complied with federal law, and Chiang lacked the power to make that determination.
In 2003, the California Supreme Court ruled that when the state has no approved budget, its civil service workers should get the minimum wage.