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Legislators to challenge controller's power to withhold pay

January 24, 2012 |  1:51 pm

John ChiangDemocratic lawmakers sued state Controller John Chiang on Tuesday seeking limits on the controller’s right to withhold lawmakers’ pay during a budget stalemate.

Speaker John A. Perez (D-Los Angeles) and Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) said in a joint statement Tuesday that the action is necessary to "clarify the constitutional role of the California state controller,’’ who withheld pay from lawmakers last year after determining they had not approved a balanced budget on time.

Under a law passed by voters in 2010, the controller has the right to dock lawmakers' pay if a budget is not passed by the June 15 constitutional deadline. Last year, Democratic legislators approved a spending plan before the required date (no Republicans voted for it), but Chiang decided to withhold legislators' paychecks anyway, arguing that the budget they passed was nearly $2 billion out of balance.

Democrats accused the controller of engaging in an illegal power grab, saying he had no authority to withhold their pay -– about $400 for each day after June 15 without a budget in place.

[Updated at 1:58 p.m.: The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Sacramento Superior Court, says "the controller misinterpreted and incorrectly applied the constitutional requirements in question."]

Chiang’s actions earned an angry response from his fellow Democrats in the Capitol. Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Silver Lake), said at the time the controller "just wants to sit there and beat up on the unpopular kids. 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."

Brown ultimately vetoed that budget and Democrats and the governor, again with no Republican support, agreed on a new spending plan two weeks later, leaving the issue between Chiang and the controller’s office unresolved.


The controller vs. the Legislature

Jerry Brown vetoes Democratic budget

State controller says he won't pay legislators

-- Anthony York and Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento

Photo: State Controller John Chiang. Credit: Jonathan Alcorn / Bloomberg