Gov. Jerry Brown this week slammed Republican lawmakers and other critics of a contract agreement he made with the 30,000-member prison guards union, saying the deal is virtually identical to pacts his Republican predecessor made with other unions that they readily supported.
The agreements with the California Correctional Police Officers Association and five other public employee unions representing another 20,000 state workers were seen as a victory for Brown's administration until GOP lawmakers began picking them apart.
Critics say the contract proposals won't cut state spending by nearly enough. That claim was bolstered this week when a nonpartisan analyst concluded the deals will save $129 million less than Brown estimated in his budget plan.
The governor said he deliberately overestimated how much savings would be achieved as a negotiating tactic.
'A good deal'
"Collective bargaining is about give and take ... and we think we did a good deal," a peeved Brown told The Chronicle this week. "You have to create a balance and work with your workforce. The legislators can come up here and mouth off, but you can't run a state having warfare with all of your employees, which is what happened with the last administration."
The governor will need at least four Republican legislators - two in each house - to win approval for the contract bill, known as SB151. He argued that the prison guards' contract not only cuts millions out of the budget, but will give management more flexibility to make changes at prisons without being challenged by the union - a concession that state officials had tried to win for years.
Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the correctional officers association had a notoriously nasty relationship, and the prison guards had been working without a contract since 2006.
Brown noted other victories, including that the contract would end a state-funded, $42 million-a-year 401(k)-type plan that correctional officers received in addition to their pensions. He said the guards have also agreed to support the transfer of thousands of inmates out of state prisons and into local jails.
Overall, the six contracts would, among other things, do away with imposed furloughs, increase state employees' pension contributions and temporarily cut pay for a year before giving top earners a raise in 2013. Schwarzenegger negotiated the same terms with other public worker unions last fall, and lawmakers approved those contracts.
But opposition to the new agreements was fueled this week when the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office concluded the six contracts would result in only about $179 million in savings next fiscal year for the deficit-plagued general fund, not the $308 million assumed in the 2011-12 budget approved by lawmakers last month. Those savings will disappear by 2012-13, the analyst said, when costs will begin to climb once again.
Republican lawmakers said the discrepancy is a major problem, because the state is facing a $26.6 billion deficit.
Assessing the cost
"I think he's going to have a difficult time getting those votes," said Sen. Mimi Walters, R-Laguna Niguel (Orange County), who voted against the contract bill in a Senate committee. "My main concern is what the cost is going to be for taxpayers."
Walters declined to criticize specifics of the contract, but said the "overall financial picture has me very concerned."
The Senate could take up SB151 Monday, said Senate Minority Leader Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga (San Bernardino County). Dutton has not decided how he will vote, but said he is worried that less savings will result in "even more cuts to education and other areas of public safety."
Brown has also taken heat this week for a provision in the prison guards' new contract that removes a limit on how much vacation, sick time and other paid time off they can accrue.
As The Chronicle reported last month, prison guards and their supervisors currently have more than 33 million hours on the books - a $1 billion liability for the state that was exacerbated by furloughs imposed by Schwarzenegger. The state has consistently failed to enforce its 640-hour, or 16-week, limit in part because it is difficult to schedule time off for workers whose agencies must operate around the clock.
In total, according to the legislative analyst, state workers have the equivalent of $3.5 billion in paid time off on the books. Prison guards have, on average, 19 weeks of leave time accrued.
The problem is particularly acute at prisons, because workers were forced to take the 15 percent pay cut associated with the furloughs but still had to work those days - meaning they were accruing both furlough days and vacation days without being able to use them. Under the new contract, the three-day-a-month furloughs will end.
"The cap wasn't doing anything," Brown said. "Giving up that cap was trivial compared to the overall contract."
The powerful prison guards union supported Brown during last year's race for governor, and some political observers have suggested the contract is political payback - an accusation the governor denied.
"I raised $40 million (to get elected)," he said. "You can say that about every bill."
Dutton said he is more concerned about bigger issues such as pension reform, long-term uncontrolled costs and giving prison managers more flexibility.
The fact that Brown is a Democrat, or that the correctional officers association was a political donor, are not issues for him, Dutton said.
"I never really look at those things, I try to take a look at the bottom line," he said, adding that he wasn't fond of the deals Schwarzenegger struck either. "I want to make sure we are frugal with taxpayer dollars, get the most bang for our bucks, and still provide the level of services we need."
This article appeared on page A - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle