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Prison employees' paychecks threatened

By Kent Gray

Triplicate staff writer

Pelican Bay State Prison employees will continue getting paychecks in spite of the state's budget deadlock — at least for now, according to a prisons spokesperson.

"The thing is, if this keeps on going, nobody is going to get paid. The correctional officers, the staff, the warden — everybody," said Margo Bach of the California Department of Corrections after the California Legislature adjourned Thursday without passing a budget.

She added that vendors who sell to the prison may have to wait to get paid.

"We always pay our critical care providers, so that will continue. Some others, however, won't be paid," Bach said. "We're telling them, ‘We will pay you, it just might not be on July 1.'"

"We go through this every single year, so we let them know in our contract this can happen," she said.

Only moments after both houses of the California Legislature adjourned Thursday, a coalition of public service groups announced plans for a statewide initiative that will prevent the governor and legislators from collecting salaries when the budget is late.

The proposal, backed by the League of Women Voters of California and the state's Parent Teachers Association, would also change the state constitution so a spending plan could be adopted by 55 percent of the lawmakers instead of the existing two-thirds majority.

The initiative is aimed at preventing political deadlock over future state budgets.

Bach said the California Department of Corrections feels the effect of deadlock more than many other state agencies.

"We don't have a revenue source, unlike some other departments have, other than the general fund," Bach said. "The Transportation Department, the Park Service — they have other sources of revenue. So this is especially hard on us."

The proposed initiative would also prevent the Legislature from taking time off if a budget is not adopted by the constitutional deadline of June 15.

"I'm appalled that the Legislature is going home for the holiday weekend without a budget and they are suffering no consequences," said Cecelia Mansfield, legislative director of the California PTA.

Backers say they've already begun circulating petitions in hopes of getting the initiative on the ballot for the March 2004 election.

Frances Gracechild, of the Resources of Independent Living, said lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are using the budget delay for other political goals.

"They know they are going to make a deal," she said. "Why not make it now? It's a game of chicken with the budget, and it should be stopped."

Supporters say the initiative would need 600,000 signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Associated Press Writer Tom Chorneau contributed to this report.

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