A judge sided with California lawmakers in a dispute over pay. He ruled the State Controller John Chiang does not have authority to withhold lawmakers' pay when they fail to pass a balanced budget on time.
"If your position is correct, nobody is going to want to run for governor anymore," said Sacramento Superior Court Judge David Brown.
Judge Brown took away the power of the State Controller to dock lawmakers' pay when budgets are late or not balanced by the June 15 deadline. It was a popular provision of Proposition 25, which voters approved a couple of years ago.
But the court ruled no one person should have all that power, not even the state controller, the guy who crunches the numbers and looks at California's bottom line every day.
"The judge just affirmed that Proposition 25 is meaningless, that the will of the voters to try to get the Legislature to pass a timely budget just went out the door," said Chiang.
The ruling is a victory for Democratic legislative leaders who sued Controller Chiang for withholding 12 days of pay and per diem when he ran the numbers of last year's budget and determined it was not balanced. That forced lawmakers back to the drawing board and they eventually passed a deal, but past the deadline.
"I feel very good that we took a stand to uphold the separation of powers in this state," said state Senate President Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento). "No authority should be able to leverage anybody's pay to achieve a desired public policy result."
Critics say the Democratic majority can now approve a blank piece of paper and call it a budget just to avoid getting their pay docked.
Assemblyman Allan Mansoor (R-Costa Mesa) is upset because the court also ruled the Legislature gets to determine whether the budget is balanced, even though it's common practice to fudge the numbers and use accounting maneuvers every year.
"Right now, based on that court ruling, the Legislature has the ability to determine whether it's balanced or not. That's like asking the fox to watch the henhouse," said Mansoor.
Mansoor already has a proposal that would let the non-partisan Legislative Analyst determine whether the budget is balanced and whether lawmaker pay should be docked.
Meanwhile, Chiang is considering appealing the ruling.