Governor Schwarzenegger threatens cuts to firefighters
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger plans to seek the elimination of more than 1,700 state firefighting positions and closure of scores of fire stations if voters reject key ballot measures in the May 19 special election, according to documents obtained by The Chronicle on Monday.
Schwarzenegger's proposal involves slashing $80.8 million from Cal Fire's spending plan - a 10 percent reduction - by eliminating 602 full-time positions and 1,100 seasonal firefighting positions. The cuts would be part of a series of deep cuts to the state budget.
Cal Fire, the state's fire agency, has about 5,000 full-time firefighters. At the peak of last year's fire season, more than 2,700 wild fires ravaged the state and the agency hired extra help: 3,000 seasonal firefighters.
The plan would also shutter 11 conservation camps and 20 single-engine stations throughout California.
Closing fire stations would affect response times and the agency's ability to make inspections on defensible spaces, according to the document.
Schwarzenegger's staff disclosed the plan Monday to various groups, including firefighter unions and fire chiefs in a conference call, said Terence McHale, public policy director for CDF Firefighters, a union that represents Cal Fire employees.
"I think what is happening is that the governor recognizes that we need to have these kinds of discussions - what kind of cuts can be made without undermining the integrity of Cal Fire's response," said McHale, whose union has endorsed the special election measures.
One opponent of the ballot measures called the governor's proposal a "blatant scare tactic."
Jon Coupal, president of Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, argued that rather than targeting public safety, the governor should find "waste, fraud and abuse" in the state.
The governor's spokesman, Aaron McLear, said the administration is merely preparing for a possible worst-case scenario.
In two weeks, voters will decide the six ballot measures that were part of the February budget deal reached between Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders to close a nearly $42 billion shortfall through June 2010.
Prop. 1A limits spending and creates a rainy day fund; Prop. 1B guarantees education funding in future years; Prop. 1C allows the state to borrow against future lottery sales; Props. 1D and 1E shift taxes collected for children and mental health programs to other programs; Prop. 1F freezes lawmakers' pay during tough budget years.
If voters reject Props. 1C, 1D and 1E, the state would immediately see a $5.84 billion shortfall in the new fiscal year that begins July 1 - and the governor would call for cuts as he's outlined for the firefighters.