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Questions swirl over Calif. lawmakers' loss of pay

June 22, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
While California lawmakers continued to work without pay Wednesday, questions still swirled over whether the loss of pay is legal. Critics say one branch of government shouldn't be able to hold power over another.

Some Democrats are quietly saying a lawsuit should be filed to challenge Controller John Chiang's decision for withholding pay as a consequence for not passing a balanced state budget last week.

Their leadership is mum about whether they'll do so.

"The question before us right now is getting a budget done that we can agree with the governor. That's what we're focused on," Assembly Speaker John Perez (D-Los Angeles) said.

Democrats rushed through a state budget last week just before the June 15 deadline. Some said it was done to avoid getting their salaries cut.

Lawmakers are losing $400 a day off their paychecks. That's $50,000 a day in savings for taxpayers.

Voters approved Proposition 25 last fall allowing the state to cut paychecks in instances of a late budget. Nowhere, though, does it say the budget had to be balanced. It also doesn't specifically give the controller the power to slash checks.

However, the original supporters of Prop. 25 say the voters' intent was clear.

Challenging the loss of pay is tricky for politicians. On the one hand, the loss of pay is popular among voters. On the other, a lawsuit to stop the loss of pay would make some lawmakers even more unpopular.

The smaller checks, though, could be avoided if lawmakers could come to an agreement on a spending plan.