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Legislators sue California Controller for witholding pay

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January 25, 2012

California Controller John Chiang

Sacramento, California: Democratic lawmakers sued California Controller John Chiang (D) yesterday for withholding their pay last summer after they passed a budget that he said was not balanced. The suit argues that the move was a misuse of power and does not ask for reimbursement of the pay, but rather seeks to have the court bar the controller from doing it again if legislators approve a budget that they declare balanced.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D) said the controller does not have the power to deem a budget sound or not, stating, "Neither the governor nor any member of the executive branch may brandish the threat of withholding legislative pay because they disagree with the decisions made by the legislative branch."[1]

Chiang issued a statement, noting, "While nothing in the Constitution gives me the authority to judge the honesty, legitimacy or viability of a budget, it does clearly restrict my authority to issue pay to legislators when they fail to enact a balanced budget by the constitutional deadline of June 15."[1]

In 2010, California voters passed Proposition 25, requiring state legislators to forfeit their pay in years where they have failed to pass a budget in a timely fashion. Last year, as the legislature struggled to pass a budget, Chiang announced on June 2, 2011 that unless the state legislature passed a balanced budget by June 15 he would start docking their pay.[2]

On June 22, Chiang announced that he was following through with his promise. Legislators did pass a budget, but according to Chiang, the budget they passed had a $1.85 billion deficit, and was therefore not a legal budget under the state's requirement that its budget must be balanced. Therefore, Chiang said, there was functionally no budget and by the terms of Proposition 25, he was required to stop paying the state's legislators. In Chiang's statement, he said that parts of the budget the legislature did pass were "miscalculated, miscounted or unfinished."[3]

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