Our View: Prop. 25 another fraudulent maneuver
Proposition 25 was passed in 2010 to allow adoption of a state budget by simple legislative majority, rather than the previously required two-thirds vote. The measure was touted as a way to break Sacramento's gridlock. Regrettably, it only made it easier for politicians to spend tax money and now, apparently, protects them when they overspend.
A provision of the law also required state senators and Assembly members not be paid if they failed to approve a budget by midnight June 15. Voters bought the promise. We suspect that legislators knew what really would happen.
We opposed Prop. 25 because the simple-majority approval would give "almost complete control over the budget to tax-and-spend Democrats' large majorities in the state Senate and Assembly." It has.
Others predicted Prop. 25 wasn't even all it promised to be. Despite assurances that it "would punish lawmakers when the state budget is late, docking their pay and perks for every day that a spending plan is overdue ... checks could keep coming even if they make no more progress," the Los Angeles Times reported in 2011.
The initiative was drafted by a labor coalition to give the Democratic majority more control over spending. It contained, as the Times put it, "an escape hatch." The law stipulated that passing a budget bill, irrespective of whether it was balanced, as California's Constitution requires, is good enough for lawmakers to be paid.
When the Legislature adopted an unbalanced budget, California Controller John Chiang said he would dock lawmakers' pay. "[V]oters clearly stated they expect their representatives to make the difficult decisions needed to resolve any budget shortfalls by the mandatory deadline, or be penalized," Chiang said. "I will enforce the voters' demand."
The budget, Chiang said, was unbalanced because it had a papered-over $1.85 billion deficit. Chiang, at about $400 a day in lost pay, apparently hit lawmakers where it hurt. They sued.
Sacramento Superior Court Judge David I. Brown on Wednesday affirmed his ruling, first issued a day earlier, that Chiang cannot block lawmakers' pay based on his interpretation of the budget. The judge agreed with Democratic legislative leaders that that responsibility lies with state lawmakers.
In essence, the judge said the Legislature will determine for itself whether a budget is balanced. Consequently, legislators themselves will decide whether to withhold their own pay, as provided in Prop. 25.
We are confident Democratic lawmakers, who hold lopsided majorities in both houses, will never dock their own pay, no matter how out of balance their budgets, and despite the promise of Prop. 25. They have gained the ability to approve budgets without a single vote from opposing Republicans, as we said two years ago would happen, and will pay no price even when the budget doesn't balance, as others predicted.
Chiang rightly noted that the ruling "flies in the face of the voters' will by allowing legislators to keep their salaries flowing by simply slapping the title 'budget act' on a sheet of paper by June 15."