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California lawmakers may lose pay until budget is passed

June 3, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
The state printers that churn out lawmaker's paychecks could come to a grinding halt in less than two weeks.

With a constitutional deadline of June 15 for California's budget around the corner, Controller John Chiang is threatening to permanently dock lawmakers' pay and per diem for every day the spending plan is late. He says he's just following Proposition 25, which voters passed last November.

"The voters made the law clear," said Chiang. "If you don't finish your budget, you're not going to get paid."

Since 1980, the legislature has met the deadline only a handful of times. Last year was the latest budget ever- 100 days late.

At a typical salary of $95,000 a year and $142 a day per diem while in session, each lost $50,000. While they eventually got the money back last year when they passed a budget, the new law forbids it. There is no longer retroactive pay.

"It ought to be an incentive to legislators to do their job," said Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher from San Diego. "To pass the budget, to get it done. When folks that work regular jobs out there don't do their jobs, they don't get paid."

Some lawmakers with young families understand the intent of the new law but no paycheck is worrisome. It can be expensive maintaining their residence in their districts as well as the one in Sacramento.

"Anytime you face losing your paycheck of course, it's difficult for people who are trying to get by," said Assemblyman Mike Gatto from Los Angeles. "My wife and I are certainly in that category."

Critics of Prop 25 say lawmakers shouldn't be put in a position to vote for a bad budget just so they can pay their mortgage.

Privately, some politicians said a lawsuit is possible because technically a budget was passed and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in March, though it didn't solve the entire deficit.

The law does not literally say the budget has to be balanced, but the Chiang believes it does and he signs the paychecks.

"The legislature is going to have to come to an agreement on the budget," said Chiang. "Forward it to the governor if they want to get paid."

Prop 25 makes it easier to pass a budget by needing just a majority vote. But because Brown's budget relies on keeping the temporary tax hikes going for five more years, it'll take a two-thirds vote.


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