Groups join forces for political reform

March 11, 2010 6:46:10 PM PST
Responding to voter anger about Sacramento's political stalemate, Democrats and an independent group, California Forward, have proposed major changes in the way state government works.

The biggest black eye against the Legislature is the perennially late state budget. A new constitutional amendment would hurt lawmakers financially if they fail to pass a budget by June 25.

"There's a provision in it that says if the budget's not on time, legislators don't get paid, which I can imagine was a bi-partisan, bi-cameral heartburn," Bob Hertzberg of California Forward said.

That could mean a big pay loss for lawmakers; they would not get the money even after they eventually pass a budget.

The longest it ever took to pass a budget was three months. Since rank-and-file lawmakers make about $96,000 a year, a three-month delay means about a $24,000 dock in pay, plus the loss of $142 a day in tax free per-diem.

The proposal is part of a package Democrats unveiled, which is aimed at improving the budget process and discouraging stalemates.

It includes allowing budgets to pass with a simple majority, instead of a two-thirds vote.

Because budgets would be easier to pass without Republican votes, the new assembly speaker says he will reluctantly support pay docks.

"I don't love that idea, but I think it is a perfectly fine way to make sure that we have a packet that moves forward that people can support," Assm. Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, said.

Some Republicans oppose the penalties because it could sway votes for the wrong reasons.

"So there becomes this element as to rather than doing what's right in regards to an issue, a conviction or in regards to what's in the budget," state Sen. George Runner, R-Lancaster, said. "Now, you're doing it based on your own pocketbook."

But on-time budgets mean social programs can keep their doors open and school districts can plan their year, instead of hanging by a thread wondering if and when state funding is coming.

If lawmakers agree to these changes, lawmakers would still have to approve them.


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