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Lawmakers face big pay cut if budget stalls

March 11, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
Democratic leaders in the state capitol say voters are fed up with the state's fiscal crisis and the political gridlock. They are reportedly proposing some major reforms, most of them focused on the budget and getting it approved more easily. The biggest black eye against the legislature is the perennially late state budget. One constitutional amendment would hurt lawmakers financially if they don't pass a budget by June 25th.

"There's a provision that says if the budget is not on time, legislators don't get paid, which I can imagine was a bi-partisan, bi-cameral heartburn," said Bob Hertzberg, California Forward.

That could mean a big pay loss for lawmakers. They don't get the money even after they eventually pass a budget. Governor Schwarzenegger signed the latest budget on September 23. Since rank-and-file lawmakers make about $96,000 a year, a three month delay means about a $24,000 dock in pay, plus the loss of $142 a day in tax free per-diem.

The proposal is part of a package Democrats unveiled, which is aimed at improving the budget process and discouraging stalemates.

It includes another constitutional amendment allowing budgets to pass with a simple majority, instead of a two-thirds vote. Because budgets would be easier to pass without Republican votes, the new Assembly Speaker says he'll reluctantly support pay docks.

"I don't love that idea, but I think it is a perfectly fine way to make sure that we have a packet that moves forward that people can support," said Assembly Speaker John Perez, Los Angeles.

Some Republicans oppose the penalties because it could sway votes for the wrong reasons.

"So there becomes this element as to rather than doing what's right in regards to an issue, a conviction or in regards to what's in the budget, you're now doing it based on your own pocketbook," said State Senator George Runner, Lancaster.

But on-time budgets mean that social programs can keep their doors open. It also means that school districts can plan their year instead of hanging by a thread wondering if and when state funding is coming. If lawmakers agree to these changes, voters would still have to approve them.