Brown eliminates nearly 30,000 state cellphones |

Brown eliminates nearly 30,000 state cellphones

Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – California has shut off nearly 30,000 state cellphones since January, Gov. Jerry Brown announced Wednesday, achieving much of the millions in savings promised when he launched the cost-cutting measure.

As of June 1, Brown’s administration had snagged 29,348 state cellphones, which is 44 percent of all those issued to employees in offices under the governor’s direct control.

Some departments have asked for exemptions, asserting that almost 5,000 phones are needed to protect public safety or otherwise critical to their government mission, but Brown is shooting for a 50 percent cut.

“We will deny exemption requests – or force deeper cuts to other agencies and departments – to ensure the 50 percent reduction is realized within 30 days,” Brown said in a news release. A 50 percent cut would amount to nearly 34,000 phones and save the state $13 million a year.

Still, that’s a more modest target than Brown announced in January with his first executive order after taking office. Back then, Brown said he wanted to cut half of the 96,000 phones assigned to all state employees, saving $20 million a year.

As the crackdown began, however, it became clear that some of those phones didn’t exist.

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About 8,700 phones had already been eliminated. Some were cut under austerity measures by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, others in the course of normal business, but state records available in January didn’t reflect the changes.

Others were never phones. About 7,000 accounts with wireless companies were actually for data devices such as modems in police cars or telemetry devices to relay traffic information.

Still others were under the control of other constitutional officers or otherwise outside the governor’s budget-cutting reach. After the records had been parsed, that left about 67,000 cellphones under Brown’s scrutiny.

The cost-cutting announcement came as Brown negotiates a deal with Republican lawmakers to close a $9.6 billion budget deficit. The effort hinges in part on whether to extend temporary tax increases until voters can consider them. The GOP is balking at a “bridge” extension of the taxes until the election, which Brown wants to hold in September.

Lawmakers have until June 15 to deliver a balanced budget.

The cuts to cellphones were just the first of a series of measures Brown announced as he pushed for a quick budget deal early this year. Others included campaigns targeting state vehicles and promotional gift items such as flashlights and key chains, along with sharp limits on hiring and travel.