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California state controller John Chiang (R) looks on as California governor-elect Jerry Brown speaks during a briefing on California's state budget on December 8, 2010.
State lawmakers sued California’s controller in a Sacramento Superior Court Tuesday for docking their pay during last year’s budget impasse. Democratic leaders of the state Legislature say the controller meddled with the legislature’s authority to declare a balanced budget.
Lawmakers are supposed to pass a balanced budget by June 15. They’ve blown that deadline more often than not.
Frustrated voters enacted Proposition 25 a couple of years ago; it shifts the number of votes required to pass a budget to a simple majority. The law also adds a punishment: lawmakers lose their pay if they fail to pass a balanced budget by the deadline.
Last year lawmakers cleared a spending plan by June 15. The governor vetoed that budget, then Controller John Chiang determined it wasn’t balanced — and forfeited lawmakers’ pay.
"This is fundamentally an issue of separation of powers," Assembly Speaker John Perez (D-L.A.) said of the lawsuit. Perez contends it’s the Legislature’s job, not the controller’, to determine whether the budget’s balanced.
"The intent of Prop 25 was to ease the budgetary process by requiring a simple majority to pass the budget," Perez said, "not to create another choke point where the budget can be effectively vetoed by the person serving in the controller’s office."
Perez has joined state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) to stop the controller from interceding again. Last year lawmakers each lost about $4,800 during the impasse. The lawsuit doesn't ask for back pay.
In a written response, controller Chiang said state law prevents him from paying legislators “when they fail to enact a balanced budget” by the constitutional deadline of June 15.
The controller has 30 days to respond to the lawmakers’ complaint.
This story has been updated.