I'm surprised by the number of people posting who seem to have no experience working with legacy IT systems (COBOL or otherwise). Here's a quick primer:
First of all, there is generally no system architecture in legacy contexts. Rather, a set of interdependent applications will have grown into a system over time.
COBOL applications in particular are not built on RDBMS concepts and changes to back-end data must be made programatically or disaster is likely to ensue. In many cases, no living person will know all the tables that should be changed to update a particular value safely.
Here, the governor wished to cut the salaries of a broad category of employees which probably has no representation in the system. You can't just do a "update pay set rate='crap' where job_type not like '%critical%'" sort of approach. You would probably have to go through and re-classify many thousands of job types one-by-one to a new pay grade code, except that this would screw up benefits issues that weren't part of the pay cut.
To subsequently reimburse back pay, as the governor promised, you would have to keep track of the old pay grade in a system that almost certainly does not track history. Then you'd have to build in a method for accounting for back pay.
Bearing in mind there are no test suites for these changes, it's easy to believe it would take a while to implement them.
"Why should we subsidize intellectual curiosity?" -Ronald Reagan