Proposition 25 seemed to be pretty clear and direct in its message to California voters, who approved the initiative last fall: the two-thirds requirement for passage of a budget is eliminated and if the legislature doesn’t pass a balanced budget on time, they lose their pay. It was probably predictable that conflict over Prop 25 would develop rather quickly and sure enough this year’s budget cycle brought up an early test of whether legislators should be paid. The Democratically controlled state senate and assembly passed a budget last week that, on the surface at least, was balanced in that it closed the roughly $10 billion deficit. But Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed that budget, saying that it “will not stand the test of time,” opening up a complicated interpretation of Prop 25 that determines whether the legislature continues to get paid. Left to State Controller John Chiang to issue a ruling, he did that yesterday and cut off paychecks to legislators.
Democratic lawmakers, in particular, were not happy with the decision and the statements issued in response were very personal in nature. Assemblymember Mike Gatto, in the Democratic leadership, criticized Chiang and the entire process, “It’s always been an easy move to bash the disliked—but the truth is that such demagoguery is rapidly becoming cliché, and does nothing to move the state forward….I halted a fulfilling private sector career path to enter public service. I now have to explain to my wife and daughter that we won’t be able to pay the bills because a politician chose to grandstand at our expense.” Do you have sympathy for Assemblymember Gatto and his colleagues? They did, after all, pass a “balanced” budget on time. Or is this just desserts for a legislature that has repeatedly failed to make the necessary tough decisions to right California’s broken fiscal ship?