The California Public Utilities Commission and the California Energy Commission may manage to skirt layoffs by cutting some remaining fat?even under California's tough new budget signed by Governor Gray Davis. In the event of a recall and a party change, however, changing political power could hack into the meat of the institutions if the new governor is so inclined. "The director of finance's [position] is totally dependent on the governor's will," said Steve Larson, chief deputy director, Department of Finance. The state director of finance has leeway on where to perform economic surgery. The Legislature, for example, mandated state agencies cut 16,000 jobs, and some agencies could be eviscerated so others can survive intact. "A new governor could make cuts deeper or less so. Within the existing budget there's lots of authority for changes," said Larson, former CEC executive director. There has been an "informal indication" that the CPUC may get some flexibility, said Bill Ahern, CPUC executive director. The CPUC has given up 60 vacant positions to help meet state budget goals and has identified another 21 for possible elimination. Although its budget does not come out of the state's general fund, the CEC might need to cut 29 positions, according to Claudia Chandler, CEC spokesperson. She added that the Department of Finance, however, "may tell state agencies that they can use contract dollars for positions." One of the CPUC's concerns is that it be left with enough staff to enforce its policies. Under the current administration, there is a political eagerness to keep its oversight and maintain the offices that litigate and bring enforcement actions against energy companies. That may or may not continue if Governor Davis is recalled. Meanwhile, the agencies are trying to keep filled staff positions and, in the CPUC's case, are staying at home. CPUC president Mike Peevey said that instead of the next commission meeting being in Los Angeles as planned, it will be held in San Francisco to rein in the travel budget. The Department of Finance approved the CEC's proposal to reduce jobs by 12 percent, said CEC executive director Bob Therkelson. A hefty number of vacant positions, contract employees and administrative expenses will be cut, the latter including cell phones and travel costs. "The good news?if there is any?is that we will not have to eliminate any warm bodies," Therkelson said. Cuts do not include upcoming employee retirements but "we are looking for signups," he quipped. At the CEC, $20 million was "loaned" to the general fund out of its Public Interest Energy Research program, $6 million was "loaned" to the California Power Authority, and $15 million was taken from renewables accounts, according to Chandler.