Putting a man on the moon proves easier than California payroll


There are two things that I’ve learned over the years of working in and around payroll.

First, the hardest part of most any project is justifying the cost of major projects to the executive suite in order to get funding.  It can require persistence and a great deal of creativity, and sometime just dumb luck to get the planets to align in the right way.

Secondly, California is my least favorite state.  Sure, I love the weather in San Diego many of the exports we get from our 3rd largest state, but I have to say, with it comes their employment, labor and payroll tax laws, they can keep ‘em.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to develop special processes or solutions to address the California regulatory issues.

You’ve no idea what I’m talking with what I’m talking about?  Allow me to give you an example.  Most are familiar with the basic rules around FLSA overtime calculation, even if you don’t know it.  With a few exceptions, time worked over 40 hours in a work week is paid at time and a half.  This is what is used in most states.  Now, take a look at the multiple pages of rules, exceptions and flaming hoops of death that a payroll system has to not only able to jump through, but know when to jump through them in California.

I could pull out many other examples of what I call the ‘except California’ rules, but I won’t try to confuse you any further.  Suffice to say, their laws have resulted in many of my bills being paid as a consultant.

This morning as I was scanning the news headlines, I came across a wire piece from Associated Press with the headline “California minimum wage fight heads back to court”.  Preparing to grab my bottle of Advil and go talk to my payroll queen, I open the link to see what new head-ache we were in for.

In the article, I learned that the state legislature and the Governator are at odds over the state budget. With the last fiscal years budget having run out on June 30th, Governor Schwarzenegger is looking for a way to apply some political pressure and to limit the State’s exposure.  He proposed, and through a court battle, has won the right to temporarily reduce the pay of non-union state employees to the Federal minimum wage until the budget is approved. Once the budget is approved, all employees will get back pay. An interesting tactic I have to admit.

I started to chuckle though when I got to the reason he was heading back to court again.  It turns out that the state controller, the guy responsible for payroll for the state, says that their payroll system can’t do it.  The article claims that the limitation is due to the system being more than 60 years old and not having a redesign since 1970.  More than 60 years ago puts you to the 1940’s – remembering that ENIAC was completed in 1946.  Assuming that in 1970 when it was rewritten, it used current technology, which means that it was most likely created using technology similar to what got Neil Armstrong to the moon on July 20, 1969.

Since then, the state hasn’t done any major enhancements or upgrades, which makes me wonder if the laws aren’t just created to legalize their software glitches.  Now, their track record for complex legislation and not investing in technology seems to be catching up with them, since, after years of trying, they finally came up with a rule that is harder to implement than putting a man on the moon.

It seems that the controller may have justification for that replacement project now.  Sometimes, the only way to get the funding you need is to fall flat on your face.  What do you want to bet that a system replacement project makes it into the next budget?

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