A Bold Stroke

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Some may call it clever, while others may think it devious. But Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's order last week that reduces most state workers' salaries to the federal minimum wage is certainly a bold stroke that stands to shake up Sacramento.

The move, upheld by a state appellate court on Friday, would reduce the pay of more than 200,000 state workers to $7.25 per hour until a budget is passed. (Once a budget is passed, they would be paid their normal salary retroactively.) Schwarzenegger's justification for this is that a budget was not approved by last week's deadline. Considering that it is the state Legislature that is responsible for passing a budget, his move may seem like a case of misdirected anger. Indeed, the state Legislature ought to be the first to see its salary cut to the minimum wage until it passes a budget, as it is the most culpable party.

Nevertheless, the governor's action has a certain logic to it. Public sector employee unions wield great power in the state Legislature and can influence a speedy resolution to the budget impasse. But more importantly, Schwarzenegger is taking aim at those unions who have been unwilling to accept serious, necessary cuts in contract negotiations. He specifically exempted from his order those employees whose unions had recently accepted cuts in negotiations.

Entitlements to public sector unions, such as pensions, are a fast-growing liability on the state. It's unreasonable that public servants should expect to escape unscathed when everything from social welfare to higher education is on the chopping block. State workers should share the pain of all Californians hit by the lack of state funds. Schwarzenegger hopes that by escalating this game of chicken, he can force unions to accept concessions, thus easing the budget process.

We are wary of such games and particularly wary of the governor's move, considering its human costs. But we admit that perhaps such a radical move was called for in a situation as desperate as the one California faces yearly with its budgetary woes.

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