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Proposal Would Dock Officials' Pay When Budget Doesn't Pass

A drive is underway to put an initiative on the March ballot to hold the governor and the state's lawmakers accountable.

August 06, 2003|Daren Briscoe | Times Staff Writer

California's next governor could end up owing not only his or her job to the ballot initiative, but his or her paycheck too.

Even as Gov. Gray Davis fights a ballot initiative to recall him from office, a separate measure being circulated for the March ballot would dock the pay of the governor and legislators for every day the budget is late.

The Budget Accountability Act would lower to 55% the state's current requirement that budgets and tax bills pass by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature and would try to discourage the political gamesmanship that is a hallmark of the budget season.

It also appears to be the latest sign that, to Californians, there's no problem a ballot initiative can't fix.

Political gridlock has prevented the state budget from passing by the constitutional June 15 deadline all but four times in the last quarter-century.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday August 07, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 49 words Type of Material: Correction
Initiative signatures -- An article in Wednesday's California section incorrectly stated that the proposed Budget Accountability Act needs about 7.5 million signatures to qualify for the March ballot. The correct number of signatures required for the initiative to qualify is 598,105, or 8% of the state's 7.5 million voters.

Contributing to that gridlock, say supporters of the proposed initiative, are the inordinate influence that the two-thirds requirement bestows on relatively few legislators, a political culture that tolerates intimidation of lawmakers who threaten to break from party-line votes and the absence of anything to compel the governor and Legislature to get the budget passed on time.

By reducing the vote ratio required to pass a budget, said campaign spokeswoman Robin Swanson, the initiative would prevent "a small minority of lawmakers from holding up the budget process."

It would also allow state Assembly and Senate ethics committees to censure party leaders, caucuses or individual legislators who punish or threaten to punish any legislator for casting a particular vote, she said, and would create a pocketbook-based incentive for the governor and Legislature to pass the budget on time.

The proposal calls for the governor and the Legislature to permanently forfeit their salary, per diem expense allowance and car allowance for every day the budget is late.

With another ballot initiative -- the one to recall Davis -- at the forefront of the state's political stage, the Ballot Accountability Act has yet to grab the spotlight.

Although backers say they have gathered 500,000 of the roughly 7.5 million signatures needed to qualify the initiative for the March ballot, they have not yet submitted any ballots for verification by the state's 58 counties.

But this is California, where there is seemingly always room for one more actor and one more ballot initiative, and the proposal is beginning to attract attention.

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to support the initiative and to add its endorsement to those of the League of Women Voters and the Service Employees International Union, which co-sponsored the initiative.

The board's 3-2 vote split along party lines, with Republican Supervisors Mike Antonovich and Don Knabe opposed.

Antonovich said he was against making it easier to raise taxes because the tax burden already is driving businesses out of the state. He compared the initiative to cotton candy.

"There's a lot of fluff and a lot of sweetness, but there's no substance when it comes to controlling spending and making it more difficult to increase taxes," he said.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said that, although he doesn't like to "legislate by initiative," he thought the Budget Accountability Act was an appropriate use of the initiative process.

"They lose their pay if they don't pass the budget on time," he said. "What do you think the odds are that the Legislature would put that on the ballot?"

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