SACRAMENTO — The California Supreme Court’s ruling yesterday upholding Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s order to furlough state workers ends an 18-month budget distraction and pressures public employee unions to negotiate benefit rollbacks with the administration.
The high court handed the governor a unanimous decision, saying he could force employees to take unpaid leave because the state Legislature gave him that authority when it approved the 2009 budget bill.
Legislative leaders are now pushing the unions to accept concessions on pension and other benefits as part of a 2010 budget agreement scheduled for a vote by lawmakers as soon as Thursday.
Schwarzenegger has demanded the concessions as a condition of signing the budget, which seeks to close a $19 billion deficit.
He implemented the two-day-a-month furloughs for more than 200,000 state workers in February 2009. He later expanded it to three days a month, which has translated to a pay cut of roughly 14 percent.
Schwarzenegger said the move was intended to save money as California faced a severe budget crisis. His order prompted the filing of more than two dozen lawsuits.
“As governor, I have had to make very difficult decisions in response to the worldwide economic collapse, including furloughs for state workers and line-item vetoes to balance our budget,’’ Schwarzenegger, a Republican, said in a statement after the court rulings. “These decisions were absolutely necessary to keep our state functioning.’’
In another ruling yesterday, the state Supreme Court said Schwarzenegger had the authority to use his line-item veto power to cut $489 million from last year’s state budget.