Judge Tentatively Rules Chiang Cannot Dock Lawmakers' Pay

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On Tuesday, a Sacramento judge tentatively ruled that State Controller John Chiang (D) did not have the authority to block lawmakers' pay last summer after concluding that they passed an unbalanced budget, the Sacramento Bee reports.

Sacramento Superior Court Judge David Brown will hear oral arguments on Wednesday before issuing a final ruling (Yamamura, Sacramento Bee, 4/25).

Background

In June, Chiang announced that he would withhold California legislators' pay because an analysis by his office determined that a spending plan they passed was not balanced.

Chiang's analysis found that the Democrats' budget plan included $89.75 billion in spending while generating only in $87.9 billion in revenue, leaving a $1.85 billion imbalance.

In the report, the controller called elements of the Democrats' budget package "miscalculated, miscounted or unfinished" (California Healthline, 6/22/11).

In January, Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and Assembly Speaker John Perez (D-Los Angeles) filed a lawsuit against Chiang.

They said Chiang improperly interpreted a voter-approved mandate -- Proposition 25, passed in 2010 -- that lawmakers' paychecks be withheld if they fail to pass the annual state budget by June 15 (McGreevy, Los Angeles Times, 4/25).

Details of Ruling

Brown's tentative ruling states that Chiang improperly assumed budget duties reserved for state lawmakers.

The judge wrote that lawmakers can determine for themselves whether a budget is balanced and that a "contrary result could threaten to undermine the Legislature's essential function."

According to the ruling, Chiang should challenge a budget plan in court if he believes it to be unbalanced.

Reaction to Ruling

Alicia Trost -- spokesperson for Steinberg -- said, "This was an important constitutional issue which had to be addressed," adding, "We're pleased with the court's tentative ruling but are withholding further comment until there is a final ruling."

Chiang in a statement said that the tentative ruling "flies in the face of the voters' will by allowing legislators to keep their salaries" by finishing a budget on time. He added, "Adopting an unbalanced and unfinanceable budget may ensure they are paid, but the people of California will be struck with delayed payments and IOUs once the 'budget' falls apart" (Sacramento Bee, 4/25).

Broadcast Coverage

On Tuesday, KPCC's "KPCC News" reported on the judge's tentative ruling (Small, "KPCC News," KPCC, 4/24).


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