The legal battle pitted democrat against democrat. It now looks like lawmakers are not likely to face consequences for approving a state budget that doesn't pass the smell test. A Sacramento judge took away the power of the state controller to dock lawmakers' pay when budgets are late or not balanced by the June 15 deadline.
It was a popular provision of Proposition 25, which voters approved a couple of years ago, but the court ruled no one person should have all that power, not even the guy who crunches the numbers and looks at California's bottom-line every day. "The judge just affirmed that Proposition 25 is meaningless, that the will of the voters to try to get the legislature to pass a timely budget just went out the door," State Controller John Chiang said.
The ruling is a victory for legislative democratic leaders who sued Controller Chiang for withholding 12 days of pay and per diem when he ran the numbers of last year's budget and determined it was not balanced. That forced lawmakers back to the drawing board and they eventually reached a deal, but past the deadline. "I feel very good that we took a stand to uphold the separation of powers in this state. No authority should be able to leverage anybody's pay to achieve a desired public policy result," St. Senate President Darrell Steinberg said.
Critics say the democratic majority can now approve a blank piece of paper and call it a budget just to avoid getting their pay docked. Assemblyman Allan Mansoor is upset because the court also ruled that the legislature also gets to determine whether the budget is balanced even though it's common practice to fudge numbers and use accounting maneuvers every year. "Right now, based on that court ruling, the legislature has the ability to determine whether it's balanced or not. That's like asking the fox to watch the henhouse," he said.
Mansoor already has a proposal to let the non-partisan legislative analyst determine whether the state budget is balanced and whether lawmaker pay should be docked. In the meantime, Controller John Chiang is considering appealing the ruling.