Judge to controller: No right to decide on budget balance, not authorized to dock lawmakers' pay

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A tentative ruling on Tuesday was revisited Wednesday when a superior court judge said California's controller did not have the right to decide whether the state budget was balanced, and did not have the authority to dock lawmakers’ pay last year.

Proposition 25 says if lawmakers fail to pass a balanced budget by June 15th, they lose their pay for every day it’s late. Last year they did make the deadline, but Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed the budget and Controller John Chiang said the math didn’t pencil out. Chiang docked lawmakers’ pay, and they lost an average of $4,000 each.

Superior Court Judge David Brown said Wednesday that the controller overstepped his boundaries when he made that decision on his own, and that it’s up to the legislature to determine whether a budget is balanced.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg sued the Controller to affirm that right. “Bottom line is you can’t empower any official to leverage the pay of elected officials to try to achieve a result.” Steinberg said.

Chiang says he was just trying to follow the will of the people — as specified in Proposition 25.

"They were frustrated," said Chiang, referring to California voters. "They wanted to make sure budgets would be passed on time, they wanted to make sure they were balanced. They were afraid of the financial and economic hardship and deterioration of the state."

Now, he says, the budgets "aren’t going to be accountable to the people anymore."

Chiang claims that the judge’s decision means there is no one who can say the budget is balanced — other than the legislature.

The Controller has a month to appeal.

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