Budget bedlam: Controller not authorized to dock lawmakers' pay, judge says

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California state controller John Chiang (D) looks on as Governor Jerry Brown speaks. A judge has tentatively found that Chiang overstepped his bounds in withholding pay from over 100 lawmakers when they submitted an unbalanced budget.

California’s controller had no authority to dock lawmakers’ pay during last year’s budget impasse, according to a tentative ruling issued Tuesday by a Sacramento superior court judge.

Last year, lawmakers each lost about $4,800 when Controller John Chiang withheld their pay. Chiang believes that a new state law (Proposition 25) requires him to block legislators' pay when they fail to enact a "balanced budget” by a constitutional deadline of June 15.

But lawmakers did pass a budget by the deadline, one they say was balanced.

The governor subsequently vetoed it, which prompted the controller to deem it unbalanced and forfeit the lawmakers’ pay last year.

In a tentative ruling, Judge David Brown calls the decision “erroneous” and says it violates the Separation of Powers Act.

In a written release, Controller Chiang says the ruling "flies in the face of the voters' will,” adding that Proposition 25 is “clear. No balanced, on-time budget — no pay for lawmakers.”

A hearing on the tentative ruling is set for 2 p.m. on Wednesday in Sacramento Superior Court.

Correction: This post originally state that the controller forfeited the balance this year. Apologies.

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