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Judge says state controller lacks power to block legislators' pay

April 24, 2012 |  3:08 pm

 State Controller John Chiang acted beyond his authority when he withheld pay from state legislators after concluding the budget they had passed last year was not balanced, a Superior Court judge tentatively ruled 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, Sacramento County Superior Court Judge David I. Brown wrote in a ruling that he will consider finalizing at a court hearing Wednesday.

State Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and Assembly Speaker John Pérez (D-Los Angeles) sued Chiang in January, alleging he improperly interpreted the voter-approved Proposition 25, which docks legislators' pay if they fail to pass a budget by June 15 each year. The Legislature passed the budget by the deadline last year, but Chiang said it was not balanced and withheld their pay for 12 days.

Brown agreed with the legislators that the "Controller has no authority to review the Legislature’s estimate of General Fund revenues and appropriations for the coming fiscal year as set forth in the budget bill, to make his own assessment of whether the budget bill passed by the Legislature complies" with the Constitution "and to unilaterally enforce his opinion by deeming the salaries and expenses of the Members of the Legislature to have been forfeited…"

Chiang argued in court papers that he did have the power to assess whether the budget was balanced, saying taking that power away would "neuter Proposition 25’s pay forfeiture penalty and effectively gut the mechanism chosen by voters to accomplish the goals of the initiative.”


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--Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento