LOS ANGELES, Jan. 11 (AFP) – New California governor Jerry Brown ordered Tuesday the confiscation of half of the cell phones used by public employees in the state, as he slashes its budget to rein in a huge deficit.

Brown, a veteran Democrat who took over from Republican former film star Arnold Schwarzenegger this month, said far too many civil servants had their mobile phones provided from the public purse.

“It is difficult for me to believe that 40 percent of all state employees must be equipped with taxpayer-funded cell phones,” said Brown, who unveiled plans Monday to slash 12.5 billion dollars from the Golden State’s budget.

The western US state currently pays for 96,000 cell phones, he said, ordering the number to be cut to 48,000 by June. He said the move would save the state 20 million dollars a year.

“Some state employees, including department and agency executives who are required to be in touch 24 hours a day and seven days a week, may need cell phones, but the current number of phones out there is astounding.”

The 2011-2012 budget plans announced on Monday, a week after 72-year-old Brown took office, cuts spending by 12.5 billion dollars including an 8-10 percent cut in public employees’ salaries.

The cuts notably target welfare spending, healthcare and services for the disabled, while extending recent tax hikes on a temporary basis to help rein in California’s estimated 25 billion dollar budget shortfall.

Brown, who was California governor 1975-1983, said the cuts would be “painful” but necessary as part of a “vast and historic” restructuring of government operations.
“For 10 years, we’ve had budget gimmicks and tricks that pushed us deep into debt. We must now return California to fiscal responsibility and get our state on the road to economic recovery and job growth,” he said Monday.

Announcing the cell phone plans on Tuesday, Brown said: “In the face of a multi-billion dollar budget deficit, a cell phone may not seem like a big expense.

“But spending 20 million dollars, and perhaps far more than that, on cell phones can’t be justified. We’re facing a budget crisis in California and I want to achieve all possible, reasonable savings.”