Controller John Chiang took a victory lap this week,
enjoying accolades from an unusual quarter – legislative Republicans and conservatives. But while Chiang has made
political hay by slamming shut the pay window, he has actually added to the
fiscal irresponsibility surrounding the budget.
If the Controller’s action is left unanswered, the
Legislature and Governor will effectively no longer have the final word on the
state’s budget. The Controller will be able to second-guess – and only after
the fact – whether a budget passed by the Legislature is a bona fide budget,
for purposes of deciding whether legislators will continue to be paid. The
criteria the Controller uses to determine "balance" is of his own devise. He
may change it from year-to-year as he pleases. He may even halt legislative pay
after the Governor signs and enacts a budget.
One can envision future Big Five negotiating sessions
becoming a Big Six, with appropriate consideration given to the Controller’s
Proposition 58, which added the balanced budget
requirement, has been the law of the land for seven years, which includes the
entire tenure of this Controller. Most budgets adopted since 2007 have been out
of balance – by some definition – on the day the bill was signed. But the
state’s "chief fiscal officer," who signs the annual
financial reports and co-signs the demand letter to Wall Street for the annual
cash flow loans, never raised his voice to object to this apparent violation of
And for those with short memories, this is the same
ministerial official who illegally defied Governor Schwarzenegger’s 2010 order
– upheld by a Court of Appeal – to reduce state employee pay in the absence of a
Congratulations to the Controller for making the big
time, but let’s hope this is a one-hit wonder.
Loren on Twitter: @KayeLoren.