Assessing the Cost of No Budget on a California Legislator
The state Legislature returned from its one-month summer recess on August 2. Lawmakers took a break despite not sending a budget to the governor by June 15 – the Legislature’s constitutional deadline to do so – let alone July 1, the beginning of the new fiscal year.
In the past 20 years, the June 15 deadline has been met once.
California’s budget is the single most important public policy act of the Democratic majority Senate and Assembly and GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
For several decades, various interest groups have suggested penalizing legislators for not passing a budget on time by docking their pay for each day past the deadline. Similar sanctions for the governor have been proposed less often.
On November’s ballot is Proposition 25 which would change the approval threshold for a budget to a majority vote but dock lawmakers both their pay and their $142 daily living allowance – per diem – for every day past June 15 a budget is not approved.
“In any year in which the budget bill is not passed by the Legislature by midnight on June 15, there shall be no appropriation from the current budget or future budget to pay any salary or reimbursement for travel or living expenses for members of the Legislature during any regular or special session for the period from midnight on June 15 until the day that the budget bill is presented to the governor.
“No salary or reimbursement for travel or living expenses forfeited pursuant to this subdivision shall be paid retroactively,” the language of the proposition reads.
One of the ironies of Proposition 25 is that its chief supporter is California Democratic Party Chair John Burton who as a legislator and leader of the Senate vehemently opposed such sanctions as a way of blackmailing lawmakers into making bad policy decisions.
Burton has, however, been quoted saying that almost any proposition can win voter approval if it punishes legislators, a possible explanation of the inclusion of the sanctions in Proposition 25.
The current six weeks tardy budget delay would cost a lawmaker a fair chunk of change.
Lawmakers who are not part of legislative leadership have an annual salary of $95,291, a little over $7,940 before taxes each month. Dividing 365 days into $95,291, lawmakers are paid roughly $261 per day.
When the Legislature is in session – about eight months of the year – lawmakers receive $142 in per diem each day. Per diem is tax-free unless a legislator lives within 50 miles of the Capitol.
Under the terms of Proposition 25, for the last 15 days of June legislators of both parties would forfeit $2,130 of per diem and $3,915 in salary: $6,045.
The 33 days from July 1 through August 2 – for which per diem applies only on August 2 when the session resumes – would cost $8,755.
To date, the sanctions of Proposition 25 would total $14,800, 15.5 percent of a lawmaker’s annual salary.
The revised budget Schwarzenegger proposed in May contains $123 billion in spending in general fund, special fund and bond fund expenditures.
Docking $14,800 from 120 legislators is $1.8 million.
Filed under: Budget and Economy
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