Hundreds of state offices closed because there was nobody to run them: More than 200,000 state employees had to take the day off Friday without pay to help ease California's budget crisis.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California drivers who needed to renew their licenses or registration found no one to help Friday at the Department of Motor Vehicles. The doors to the state health agency were locked, too.
Even Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s emergency-services office was dark.
Hundreds of state offices closed because there was nobody to run them: More than 200,000 state employees had to take the day off Friday without pay to help ease California’s budget crisis.
Schwarzenegger ordered employees to take two unpaid days off a month, hoping to save the state $1.3 billion through June 2010, when the mass furloughs are expected to end.
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Critical services such as state fire stations and centers that process unemployment-insurance claims remained open, as did state parks.
The days off, expected to be the first and third Fridays of each month, will trim the average state worker’s salary by 9.2 percent as Schwarzenegger and lawmakers try to make up for a $42 billion budget shortfall.
“It feels like we’re being punished because we chose a career in state government,” said Shelia Byars, 47, a hearing officer at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in Van Nuys.
Byars, who expects to lose $400 a month, was among about a dozen union members protesting outside the agency’s office in downtown Los Angeles. She said it didn’t make sense to close 180 DMV locations because they collect revenue for the state through licenses and registration fees.
At the state Department of Transportation, some engineers were working Friday, although they were not being paid.
Mark Sheahan, a transportation surveyor in the department’s Marysville office, said the road and infrastructure projects he works on would be set back as employees take off 16 hours a month.
“We lay asphalt and pour concrete and get people back to work,” Sheahan said. “Why would you ever want to stop those things when we have a budget crisis?”
In the days before the furloughs took effect, state agencies scrambled to inform the public, but that did not prevent many people from showing up Friday at DMV offices.
In Long Beach, a steady stream of customers shook the locked door handle of a DMV office and peered in the window despite a large sign that read “Closed” in English and Spanish.
Bob Cabeza, who came to file an accident report, was furious. If taxes must be raised to keep offices opened, lawmakers should make that decision, he said.
“I made $200,000 a year between me and my wife, and I don’t mind paying higher taxes,” the YMCA executive said. “These Republicans, they seem to think taxes are taboo.”
A Schwarzenegger spokesman said the governor’s office had “gone to great lengths” to notify employees about the furloughs and said state agencies were trying to post information on their Web sites.
At least a few other states are pursuing the same strategy as California, trying to preserve cash as tax revenue plunges. Furloughs for state employees and pay cuts, reduced benefits or shorter workweeks have been proposed or adopted in states, including Ohio, Maryland and Hawaii.
The California furloughs may not be all bad for workers: Two ski resorts at Lake Tahoe offered discounts to state employees on furlough days, including $30 lift tickets or a pass every Friday for the rest of the season for $20.