Last June, after he temporarily halted legislative pay for passing an unbalanced budget, I congratulated Controller John Chiang for making the big time, but suggested he might be a one-hit wonder. The Controller wanted to add “budget judge” to his job description, in effect enforcing Proposition 25’s pass-a-budget-or-no-pay rule on the Legislature, by bootstrapping a balanced budget requirement to the procedural rule crafted by Prop 25.
Looks like I was right. A real judge made short work of that ambition. Judge David Brown ruled that the Controller exceeded his authority, adding semi-facetiously that in the future, “the big race in California is going to be for Controller because the Controller is going to be the person. He or she will be the top power in the state.”
So we’re back to where Prop 25 opponents believed we’d be in the first place: the Legislature able to pass a budget by majority vote, even if it’s a spending plan written on the Speaker’s shoe, while also passing laws by majority vote designed to avoid the people’s right to referendum.
But even more ominous is the lurking threat that the power of the Legislature to pass budget-related bills with a majority vote will be applied to tax increases. This may not be a ghost story. After all, should the Governor’s tax proposal fail in November, and no attempts made in the meantime to garner legislative consensus on a tax-plus-reform strategy, this may be the final, hail-Mary gambit by a tax starved legislative majority.