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Judge faults California controller for docking legislators' pay

The tentative ruling says John Chiang lacked the authority to take the action after he concluded the budget that passed was not balanced. The leaders of the state Senate and Assembly sued in January.

April 25, 2012|By Patrick McGreevy, Los Angeles Times
  • State Controller John Chiang said: "The court's tentative 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."
State Controller John Chiang said: "The court's tentative… (Paul Kitagaki Jr. / Sacramento…)

SACRAMENTO — State Controller John Chiang did not have the authority to dock legislators' pay last summer after concluding that the budget they passed was not balanced, according to a tentative court ruling Tuesday.

The Legislature meets its obligation to pass a budget when it sends the governor a bill that, "on its face," proposes spending that does not exceed revenue, wrote Sacramento County Superior Court Judge David I. Brown. He will consider finalizing the ruling at a hearing Wednesday.

State Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles) sued Chiang in January. They asserted that he improperly interpreted the voter-approved law requiring that lawmakers' paychecks be withheld if they fail to pass the annual budget by June 15.

The Legislature approved a budget by the deadline last year, but Chiang said it was not fiscally sound.

"Wise or unwise,'' the judge wrote, Chiang's actions were "an unwarranted intrusion into the Legislature's budget deliberations.''

The lawmakers did not request restitution of the $583,000 in total pay forfeited during the 12-day budget dispute last year, saying they sued to establish an interpretation of the law for future budget decisions.

Chiang said he would consider an appeal.

"The court's tentative 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," Chiang said in a statement.

Steinberg said he was pleased with the tentative ruling but declined to elaborate before a final decision, except to say: "These are important constitutional issues which had to be addressed.''

Pérez said he would not comment until after a final ruling.

The law California voters passed in 2010 allowed the Legislature to approve state budgets with a simple majority instead of a two-thirds majority. But it also said legislators must give up their salary and $142-a-day expense allowance for each day the state goes beyond the deadline without a budget.

patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com

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