Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has nothing against Lincoln or Columbus. He just thinks state workers don't need their holidays as a paid day off while California faces a mounting budget deficit. (Photo by Max Whittaker/Getty Images)
The governor has proposed eliminating them as paid holidays, a move his administration estimates will save California $114 million during this fiscal year and the next one starting in July. Much of that will come from saved overtime costs.
"We think it's not so painful to give up a couple of holidays," said Mike Genest, Schwarzenegger's finance director.
California is one of just a few states considering trimming the number of paid days off given to state employees as a way to save money in lean economic times.
New Jersey passed a benefit-cutting bill in September that included eliminating Lincoln's Birthday as a state paid holiday amid a budget deficit projected to reach $1.2 billion in the current fiscal year.
Gov. Jon Corzine also stopped issuing an annual executive order giving employees the day after Thanksgiving as a paid day off, ending a long-standing tradition.
Utah, which is experimenting with a four-day work week, eliminated Columbus Day as a paid holiday.
Scott Pattison, executive director of the National Association of State Budget Officers, said California and New Jersey are rare because they offer so many paid holidays to government workers: 14 in California, which includes a "personal holiday," and 13 in New Jersey.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average number of paid holidays for state and local government employees nationwide is 11 days a year. The average private-sector employee receives eight paid holidays.
"California's just extremely generous," Pattison said. "They get 13, plus a floater. Most other states are in the 10 to 11 range, where they might have one more like Patriot's Day in Massachusetts."
In addition to reducing the number of paid holidays, Schwarzenegger has suggested a furlough program in which state workers would take off one day a month without pay. That move is projected to save $714 million this fiscal year and next and is part of plan to address a state budget deficit expected to grow to $28 billion by June 2010.
The furlough would not apply to California Highway Patrol officers and some other emergency workers.
California is one of only a few states that has not merged Lincoln's and Washington's birthdays. It also gives workers a day off each spring to honor labor leader Cesar Chavez.
Groups representing state workers criticized the plan to eliminate the two holidays because it does not solve the state's massive deficit.
Dave Hart, president of the California State Employees Association, said state workers would face a double hit because they would be compensated less -- through the furlough proposal -- while paying higher taxes that also have been proposed by Schwarzenegger.
The governor's budget-balancing plan calls for a three-year, 1½-cent increase in the state sales tax.
"The governor says he values state employees, but it sure doesn't feel like it," Hart said.
He said most bargaining units are in contract negotiations and would fight the proposals to furlough workers and eliminate paid holidays if they emerge from the special legislative session Schwarzenegger has called to deal with the budget deficit.
Debbie Berman, a single mother of four who has worked for the California Employment Development Department for 10 years, said the state simply could stop paying overtime on holidays to save money. Berman, 38, said she relies on paid days off to bond with her children.
"It would be a day that I would normally have off to do something special with my kids," she said. "As it is, you work 9-hour days and then your kids are in school and you don't have as much time to spend with them, so you look forward to having those holidays."
Even if California takes away Lincoln's Birthday and Columbus Day as paid holidays, its 230,000 state workers still will benefit from more paid holidays than their counterparts in the private sector.
Many of the Sacramento area's largest private employers can't keep up with the state's benefits. Hewlett Packard gives its employees 11 holidays, while chipmaker Intel Corp. gives its employees nine.
Intel spokeswoman Gail Dundas was surprised to hear there were separate holidays for Lincoln's and Washington's birthdays.
"As long as there's been a President's Day, that's what we've done," Dundas said.
According to the Society for Human Resource Management, most businesses in 2009 plan to observe the six major holidays: New Year's, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Ron Shelton, who has been in the trucking industry for 26 years, said he receives six paid holidays a year and supports the governor's proposal to reduce the number given to state government workers.
"I think it's perfectly fair given the situation the state's in right now," Shelton, 54, said as he unloaded boxes from his truck in downtown Sacramento. "I mean, everybody's got to give."
Recognizing a need to cut expenses, New Jersey's governor and lawmakers approved legislation in late September reducing pension benefits for new workers and doing away with Lincoln's Birthday. Beginning in 2012, the holiday will be combined with Washington's Birthday to be observed as President's Day, reducing the number of days off given to New Jersey workers to 12.
That would be the same as California if Schwarzenegger's plan is enacted.
"These changes reflect the state's fiscal realities and come in the same year when we had the largest year-on-year reduction in the budget in New Jersey history, set aside $650 million for debt repayment and reduced the actual size of government itself," Corzine said in a statement.
Utah state officials settled on eliminating Columbus Day because it was a day on which most schools stayed open, said Lisa Roskelley, a spokeswoman for Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman. The Republican administration initially wanted to eliminate two holidays.
Utah state workers still get Pioneer Day, which commemorates the state's settlement by Mormon pioneers. States often add regional holidays to the list of federal holidays.
Several Southern states -- among them, Georgia and Mississippi -- observe Confederate Memorial Day, honoring Civil War soldiers who fought for the Confederacy, according to the Council of State Governments. Georgia also celebrates Robert E. Lee's birthday on the day after Thanksgiving.
Louisiana shuts down government offices for Mardi Gras in February, while Missouri honors President Harry Truman's birthday in May.
Hawaii dedicates two holidays to royalty -- Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole Day in March and King Kamehameha I Day in June.
And this January, federal workers in Washington, D.C., will get an extra day, as they do every four years, to welcome the next president on Inauguration Day.