In politics, as in most everything else, it’s a pretty good rule of thumb that when someone stands up and says, “This isn’t about the money,’’ it’s about the money.

Take, for example, the demonstration Thursday outside the State Building in San Francisco when a crowd of court employees and lawyers showed up to complain about a proposal to shut down state courts one day a month to save money.

The state Judicial Council, which runs the administrative end of the court system, want to shutter the courts on the third Wednesday of each month and send the 5,000 or so court clerks, reporters, and other workers home without pay.

While it will save the court system millions at a time when the governor is threatening to slash state court funding, much of that cash will be coming out of the paychecks of the state workers, who face the equivalent of a 5 percent pay cut.

But that wasn’t the topic Thursday. Instead, the workers, their union and local politicos were talking about how people will die if the courts are closed for one more day a month.

“If you look at the issues (courts deal) with, you have kids in foster care, domestic violence cases where the health and safety of individuals are on the line every day,’’ San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera told KCBS radio station. “Every day that a case is delayed is justice denied.’’

And don’t forget the general public, who won’t be able to get needed court services if hours are cut and the courthouse doors are locked one day a month.

If some of those arguments sound familiar, that’s because they were heard last year when Governor Schwarzenegger ordered state offices closed and state workers furloughed two days a month.

Again, it wasn’t the money, but the cost to the public of not being able to get to the DMV or some other state office.

But no one heard any loud complaints from state workers about the public’s right to state services back in 2000, when California made March 31, Cesar Chavez Day, a new state holiday.

When Schwarzenegger proposed last year to eliminate Lincoln’s Birthday and Columbus Day as paid state holidays, there weren’t rallies outside the state Capitol thanking the governor for making it easier for abuse victims to have their day in court.

And while there are probably plenty of legal problems occurring on the day after Thanksgiving, there’s no move by court workers to give back that holiday as a service to the public.

No one is saying that a 5 percent pay cut for court workers isn’t going to be a hardship, especially if it comes on top of another 5 percent cut the governor is expected to propose today. And state employee unions absolutely have the right to fight any plans to cut pay and to negotiate the best possible deal for their members.

But let’s be sure everyone’s clear on what any negotiations on court closures are really about.

John Wildermuth is a long-time writer on California politics.