SACRAMENTO - Most California state offices will close on the first and third Fridays of each month starting in February as the state faces a projected $42 billion deficit over the next 18 months, state officials said Friday.

The closures are part of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's plan to force state employees to take unpaid furloughs, or days off, twice a month. Schwarzenegger says the furloughs will save the state about $1.3 billion through June 2010.

Exceptions to the alternating Friday schedule will be made for prisons, hospitals, parks and some other agencies, mostly those that generate money for the state, Department of Personnel Administration spokeswoman Lynelle Jolley said. Employees at those agencies will be furloughed on a rotating schedule.

"We're still working through which positions, which agencies, should be on this first and third Fridays (schedule) and which will be on self-directed furloughs," Jolley said.

DPA Director David Gilb announced the schedule in a memo to agency secretaries and directors Friday.

"We worked with the agency secretaries to determine the best days to do that. Typically state government is less active on the whole on Fridays," said Aaron McLear, a spokesman for Schwarzenegger. "Secondly, by shutting down entire buildings, we will realize savings by not having facilities open. Lastly, we understand how difficult this is for state workers. Hopefully having a three-day weekend will help soften the blow.



McLear said the order could be amended before it takes effect if the administration finds other ways to run government offices more efficiently with less inconvenience to citizens and employees.

Gilb said the Friday closures are an effort to cut spending while ensuring that essential services are not jeopardized and public health and safety is preserved. The department is consulting with state labor unions that are fighting the furlough plan in court, Gilb said.

Friday's announcement came on the same day that Superior Court Judge Patrick Marlette set a Jan. 29 hearing to consider blocking Schwarzengger's furlough order.

Three state employee unions have filed separate lawsuits, each alleging that Schwarzenegger exceeded his authority and violated the collective bargaining process when he announced the furloughs in December. They say furloughs can be implemented only with consent of the unions or the Legislature.

The unions say Schwarzenegger's order amounts to a nearly 10 percent pay cut for the 235,000 affected state workers. California Highway Patrol officers are exempt because their union is the only one with a contract still in effect.

Employment contracts covering the state's other employee groups have expired and are being negotiated.

Some employees who aren't on the alternating Friday schedule, including employees at prisons and hospitals, will be able to save their furlough days to use within two years after the mandatory program ends in 18 months, Gilb said.

The order does not affect employees of the Legislature, judiciary or university systems who are outside the governor's control.

Schwarzenegger's lawyers are seeking to have the lawsuits challenging his furlough order dismissed on technical grounds. They say the issue should be decided by the Public Employment Relations Board, whose five members are appointed by the governor.

If the judge decides he has jurisdiction, he will consider whether the governor can act unilaterally.

"We think the governor doesn't have the authority to cut people's pay or tell people to stay home from work," Bruce Blanning, executive director of Professional Engineers in California Government, said outside the courtroom.

He said placing the union's workers on furlough will not save money because 95 percent of state engineers are paid with motor fuel taxes and federal money.

"You just delay construction jobs and other projects," Blanning said.

The engineers are joined in their lawsuit by the California Association of Professional Scientists.

Similar lawsuits were filed by the largest state employees union, Service Employees International Union Local 1000, and by California Attorneys, Administrative Law Judges and Hearing Officers in State Employment.

Attorneys from the three unions agreed during Friday's brief hearing to have their lawsuits considered jointly by Marlette.

Separately, SEIU has filed an unfair labor practice charge with the state Public Employment Relations Board.

An earlier Schwarzenegger plan to cut state employees' pay is awaiting a separate court decision. Last summer, the governor ordered the pay of tens of thousands of state workers cut to the federal minimum wage of $6.55 per hour. A hearing on his authority to order the cut is set for late February.

The wage cut was never implemented because state Controller John Chiang refused to comply with Schwarzenegger's order.