Final Ruling: State Controller Cannot Dock Lawmakers' Pay

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On Wednesday, a Sacramento judge finalized his ruling that State Controller John Chiang (D) did not have the authority to block lawmakers' pay last summer after concluding that they passed an unbalanced state budget, the Sacramento Bee's "Capitol Alert" reports (Yamamura [1], "Capitol Alert," Sacramento Bee, 4/25).

Background

In June 2011, 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."

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' pay be withheld if they fail to pass the annual state budget by June 15.

Details of Tentative Ruling

On Tuesday, Sacramento Superior Court Judge David Brown issued a tentative ruling that Chiang improperly assumed state lawmakers' budget duties.

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 tentative ruling, Chiang should challenge a budget plan in court if he believes it to be unbalanced (California Healthline, 4/25).

Steinberg said he was pleased with the tentative ruling, adding that it restored "the appropriate balance of powers." He said, "The bottom line is, you can't empower any official to leverage the pay of elected officials to try to achieve any kind of desired result" (Yamamura [2], "Capitol Alert," Sacramento Bee, 4/25).

Brown heard oral arguments during a hearing Wednesday before issuing his final ruling (California Healthline, 4/25).

Details of Final Ruling

At the hearing, Brown told Chiang and his attorneys, "If your position is correct, nobody is going to want to run for governor anymore," adding, "The big race in California is going to be for controller because the controller is going to be ... the top power in the state."

Following the hearing, Chiang in a statement said that the final ruling "gives lawmakers the sole authority to determine if they've done their job and deserve their pay." He said the ruling "is an affront to our basic governing principles of checks and balances, and it perpetrates a bait and switch on voters." Chiang has not indicated if he will appeal the ruling (Yamamura [1], "Capitol Alert," Sacramento Bee, 4/25).

Broadcast Coverage

On Wednesday, KPCC's "KPCC News" reported on the judge's final ruling (Small, "KPCC News," KPCC, 4/25).


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