2012-01-19 / Front Page

California lawmakers to sue Chiang over their pay

Today from the Sacramento Bee: State lawmakers will sue Controller John Chiang for blocking their pay during last year's budget dispute, a source with knowledge of the action said today.

Lawmakers believe the Democratic controller overstepped his bounds when he said they initially sent Gov. Jerry Brown a flawed budget last June and docked their pay. They do not plan to sue for back earnings, but to ask the court whether Chiang can block their pay this year if lawmakers face another budget dispute with Brown at the June 15 deadline.

Assembly Speaker John A. Perez and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg called a 1:45 p.m. press conference "to announce action to clarify the constitutional role of the California State Controller."

Chiang said his own party's lawmakers failed to balance the budget largely because their plan underfunded schools by $1.3 billion according to his interpretation of the state constitution. He also said they failed to pass all of the bills necessary to carry out a balanced budget. Chiang's decision came after Brown vetoed the first budget lawmakers sent him at the deadline.

Under a 2010 voter-approved law, lawmakers lose their pay and tax-free expense money if they do not send the governor a balanced budget by the June 15 deadline. Democrats added that provision as a sweetener in Proposition 25, the main thrust of which was reducing the budget vote threshold to a majority, rather than two-thirds. The controller believes he has discretion to determine what counts as a balanced budget under the initiative.

Brown and lawmakers ultimately reached agreement on June 27, costing lawmakers about $4,830 each, equal to 12 days' worth of pay and expense money.

Chiang's move gave Brown significant leverage in budget negotiations, as the controller essentially suggested that Brown could block legislative pay with his veto pen. Lawmakers have seethed ever since. If their lawsuit succeeds, they would not only have greater pay protection this year, but also greater leverage. Brown has asked lawmakers to pass significant cuts to health and welfare programs and to put school funding at risk if voters reject his tax plan.

The governor and Chiang had different reasons for rejecting the Legislature's first budget last year. Brown was more concerned with dubious budget balancers such as raising $1.2 billion by selling and then leasing back state buildings or taking $1 billion from First 5 funds that was under legal dispute.

Brown and lawmakers ultimately settled their differences by assuming the state would receive $4 billion more in tax revenues over the 2011-12 fiscal year. Fiscal gurus at the Department of Finance subsequently determined in December that the state would only see $1.8 billion of that money, and the state imposed $1 billion in mid-year cuts to education and social services.

As for Chiang's $1.3 billion underfunding problem, lawmakers and Brown solved that by shifting 1.06 percentage point in sales tax revenue to counties to pay for new responsibilities such as housing state inmates and overseeing parolees. Brown and lawmakers believe that relieved the state of $2.1 billion owed to schools under the constitution - an interpretation over which K-12 administrators and school boards have since sued the state.

Read more here: http://blogs.sacbee.com/capitolalertlatest/2012/01/california-lawmakers-...

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