Gov. Jerry Brown

The talks could test the governor’s ability to continue limiting spending as the state digs out of a long-term budget crisis.

By Chris Megerian, Los Angeles Times
February 17, 2013, 7:01 p.m.

SACRAMENTO — When Gov. Jerry Brown needed help pushing his tax plan last year, public-worker unions rallied to his side with millions of dollars and thousands of campaign foot soldiers.

Now Brown’s administration will be negotiating with some of those unions on labor agreements worth billions. Contracts affecting almost half of all 350,000 state workers — engineers, administrative staff, librarians, corrections officers and more — are due to expire this summer.

The talks may test the governor’s ability to continue limiting spending as California edges free of its years-long budget crisis but continues to face heavy debt.

Numerous budget experts say that with the state’s financial recovery still in its infancy, it’s far too soon to lock in new expenses. And California already pays its employees significantly more than other state governments, according to the Palo Alto-based Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy.

The average state worker salary in California in 2011 was $70,777, nearly $16,000 higher than the national average, according to the center.

Still, public workers were furloughed and repeatedly went without raises as the state grappled with yawning budget gaps. Some labor officials see an opportunity to win at the bargaining table this year, as money from the tax increases they championed flows into state coffers.

“The atmosphere is different,” said Bruce Blanning, executive director of Professional Engineers in California Government. “It’s easier to negotiate increases when there is money available.”

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