SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - California’s prison guard union said on Monday it will seek the recall of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger after he ordered a pay cut for its members amid the state’s protracted budget deadlock.
“We’re going to move it as quickly as possible,” union spokesman Lance Corcoran said of efforts to launch a referendum to remove the Republican governor, who entered office in 2003 after a recall election of then-Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat.
Corcoran said a recall measure would likely end up on a special-election ballot next year rather than on the upcoming November ballot. The California Correctional Peace Officers Association must collect the signatures of more than 1 million registered voters to qualify the measure, according to the California Secretary of State’s office.
“This is a governor that has been a complete failure,” Corcoran charged.
Schwarzenegger’s term ends in 2010 and he can not run again.
The 30,000-plus-member union has long been at odds with Schwarzenegger, but his order in July to cut the pay of prison guards to the minimum wage sparked their latest confrontation.
Schwarzenegger also ordered job cuts for an estimated 22,000 temporary state employees and sharply reduced wages for 200,000 other workers after California began its fiscal year on July 1 without a budget.
Corcoran said prison guards should be exempt from the pay cuts in light of their public safety role. They manage the largest state prison network in the United States, overseeing about 170,000 inmates, a system plagued by overcrowding and frequent violence between rival gang and ethnic groups.
The pay cuts ordered by Schwarzenegger have yet to be implemented while state lawmakers continue to haggle over a compromise budget plan. They must close a shortfall that Schwarzenegger has estimated at $15.2 billion, not including a $2 billion reserve he wants to create.
Democrats who control the state legislature have urged raising taxes to balance the state’s books. Republicans oppose tax increases, including Schwarzenegger’s proposal for a temporary increase in California’s sales tax to help fill state coffers, and they are pressing for deeper spending cuts than Democrats say they will accept.
Schwarzenegger spokesman Adam Mendelsohn said the governor was not concerned about a recall initiative.
“This is the latest in intimidation tactic after intimidation tactic used by the prison guard union in their never-ending effort to extract a huge pay raise out of the legislature and the governor,” Mendelsohn said in a statement. “The governor will not be intimidated by these selfish tactics worthy of a schoolyard bully.”
Political science professor Larry Gerston said a recall would be a “long shot” even if Schwarzenegger’s standing with voters continues its recent downward trend in the polls as voters give lawmakers even lower marks on job performance.
“People are frustrated, that’s for sure. But I’m not sure the frustration manifests itself enough with the governor,” said Gerston, who teaches at San Jose State University.
Editing by Todd Eastham