Superior Court says Controller not arbiter of “balanced budget”
by Brian Leubitz
In what was a pretty watched decision, a Sacramento Superior Court Judge struck a victory (?) for the legislature:
In a bitter feud during last year’s budget battle, Controller John Chiang determined that the budget passed by legislative Democrats was not balanced. Using new powers he believed he had under voter-approved Proposition 25, Chiang then blocked lawmakers’ pay and expense money for 12 days until they cut a budget deal with Gov. Jerry Brown.
In a tentative ruling today, Judge David I. Brown said that the controller does not have discretion to determine whether the Legislature’s budget is balanced. Proposition 25 said that lawmakers must approve a balanced budget by June 15 or else lose their pay.
Brown’s ruling essentially says that the Legislature can determine for itself whether a budget is balanced.
“A contrary result could threaten to undermine the Legislature’s essential function,” Brown wrote today.(SacBee)
Here’s the thing with this. If legislators are forced to vote on a budget simply to pay the rent, we are raising a number of troubling questions. Will they be forced to vote for something against their true beliefs, and perhaps against the beliefs of their constituents. It is essentially saying that we think those votes can be bought for a few thousand dollars. It is troubling in many ways.
But that is all an issue with the measure that brought us this. The issue here is smaller, about who controls the meaning of “balanced budget.” This ruling says that if the Legislature says they passed a balanced budget, then they did. And perhaps that is prickly on the gridlock issue, but it is better on the freedom to vote their conscience front.