Controller halts pay for California lawmakers

Controller John Chiang, looks over some papers during a meeting of the CalPers Benefits and Program Administration Committee in Sacramento, Calif., Tuesday March 15, 2011.(AP Photo)

June 21, 2011 7:03:40 PM PDT
The state budget crisis took a new turn Tuesday, when State Controller John Chiang said he will not pay lawmakers their salaries because they did not pass a balanced budget by the mid-June deadline. Voters approved the "no budget, no pay" act last year.

In the past, whenever a state budget was late, schools, health clinics, just about anyone that relied on the state to get paid, did not get their money. Now the tables have turned and lawmakers are feeling the pain from not passing a balanced budget on time.

The monthly paychecks lawmakers get at the end of month will be smaller than usual. Chiang exercised for the first time the unprecedented authority voters gave him last fall to withhold pay and per diem for every day the budget is late past June 15. That amounts to about $400 a day for a typical state lawmaker, and they will never get the money back.

"There's test provided in the Constitution, it's the estimated; I highlight 'estimated,' revenues must exceed the appropriations, and so it's a mathematical test, when we did the math, it doesn't add up," Chiang said.

In fact, the state budget was unbalanced by nearly $2 billion. That is one of the reasons why Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed the spending plan in the first place.

"I think the decision's been made and now we have to get the budget set up and voted on by both houses," Brown said.

Some Democrats, members of the Controller's own party, were not happy, saying Proposition 25 does not say they had to pass a balanced budget. They also point out it is not good to give another branch of government the power to withhold pay.

"It's shifted the whole level of power; I think that's what's so sad about the whole thing," St. Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, said.

Others say that budget was rushed through last week with just Democratic votes so paychecks would not be docked.

"That budget was an embarrassment, it was a sham, it was an absolute, an insult to the people," Assm. Tim Donnelly/R-Twin Peaks said.

"Most of us Legislators here work for a living, we're not millionaires," St. Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, said. "So it's going to be a challenge. But you know what? The voters of the state of California said 'pass a balanced budget.'"

When asked by ABC7 if he thought some lawmakers would vote "yes" on a budget just so they can get paid, Senate President Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said they would do the "right thing."

Chiang's decision to halt lawmakers' pay will likely result in a lawsuit challenging the legality.