The Legislature Decides If the Budget It Passes Is Balanced, Court Rules
If lawmakers say they have passed a balanced budget – even if it isn’t — by June 15, they won’t have their pay docked under a tentative ruling by a Sacramento Superior Court judge issued April 24 (See Page 7).
Superior Court Judge David Brown said the Legislature has the sole authority to pass a budget and, under the constitution, if lawmakers say their budget is balanced – it is.
Last year, five days after lawmakers sent Gov. Jerry Brown a budget on June 15, the constitutional deadline for passage of a spending plan, State Controller John Chiang said the document wasn’t really balanced.
That caused California’s 120 lawmakers to forfeit their pay until they created a spending plan that was. A paycheck cut of nearly $5,000.
The controller, a Democrat like the lop-sided majority of both houses of the Legislature, said that while the Legislature’s budget – on paper – showed more revenues than spending, that condition was contingent on several additional bills being approved that still hadn’t been acted on by lawmakers, let alone signed by the governor.
In January, Democratic leaders of the Legislature filed a lawsuit saying Chiang had no authority to second-guess their revenue assumptions and that any budget lawmakers passed which showed more revenues than expenditures was “balanced.”
The court agreed, saying that Chiang cannot second-guess the Legislature.
“(Chiang’s) interpretation imposes limits on the Legislature in passing a budget that are not articulated in the constitution,” Brown wrote in his tentative ruling.
Chiang disputes the court’s finding and has asked for oral arguments to challenge the ruling.
The judge said that the section of the constitution in question is explicit:
Lawmakers cannot send the governor a budget that would spend more than the revenues flowing into state coffers.
Voters amended that section in November 2010 when they passed Proposition 25, the “On-time Budget Act”,” which lowered the approval needed for a spending plan to a majority vote but docked lawmakers pay for every day past June 15 they did not pass a “balanced” budget.
The judge said the budget lawmakers sent to the Democratic governor June 15 met that requirement – “on its face.”
Jerry Brown didn’t consider the plan “balanced” on its face or otherwise.
He swiftly vetoed it saying – several days before the controller passed his judgment, — it “continues big deficits for years to come and adds billions of dollars of new debt,” as well as containing “legally questionable maneuvers, costly borrowing and unrealistic savings.”
On June 28, the Legislature sent the Democratic governor a budget he would sign, a loss of $4,830 for each lawmaker, a total of $583,200.
That $583,200 was not transferred to California’s cash-starved general fund to help balance the budget, but stayed in the Legislature’s coffers, unused.
Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John Perez paid for their lawsuit with that $583,200 of taxpayer money – to prevent the controller from ever cutting legislative pay again, whether the budget lawmakers submit is actually balanced or not.
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