Looks like the legislature’s majority got away with a fast one now that a judge’s tentative ruling declared the legislature can sit in judgment of its own actions when it comes to verifying that a valid budget was passed and legislators can get paid. All a majority of legislators have to do is pass any budget bill – even if the budget includes phantom dollars, such as last year’s miraculous, and so far unseen, $4 billion which supposedly balanced the budget.
Prop 25 allowed the budget to be passed with a majority vote. Democrats and their public employee union allies who wrote Prop 25 wanted to control the budget vote with no interference from Republicans. Ironically, to sell Proposition 25 to voters, they included a provision to punish legislators by denying pay for not passing the budget because they knew it played into the view of the public that the legislature should be scorned.
The first budget considered under the new law was challenged by state controller John Chiang who said the legislators should not be paid because they did not pass a balanced budget. Legislators countered that they only needed to pass a budget bill to get paid and they sued over the matter. A superior court judge’s tentative ruling sided with the legislators.
Those of us in opposition to Prop 25 (I signed a ballot argument) warned that the provision that punished the legislators for not passing a budget was bogus.
The double-whammy of seeking approval to punish the legislature then suing successfully to neuter the punishment provision just solidifies a negative attitude toward the legislature and government in general.
The California legislature has an image problem, which is reinforced by both political disagreements and as well as failure to do its job.
The legislature is a bunch of “girlie men” former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said.
The California Legislature should “man up” current Governor Jerry Brown says.
Both governors’ comments were related to the legislature being stubborn about each governor’s budget plan and not cooperating with the governor’s vision.
Oh, that was a different governor, Gray Davis, who said the legislature’s job was to implement his vision.
It should be noted that Democratic and Republican governors, regardless of the majority party controlling the legislature, share the lowbrow opinion of the legislature.
Of course, the legislature has a right and duty to oppose a governor when it thinks it is appropriate under the constitutional separation of powers provision. But, the constant berating of the legislature by governor after governor adds to that body’s image problem.
The big issue for the legislature is that voters have the same negative feelings toward the legislature. Approval of the California legislature is 22%, reports the latest Field Poll.
In fairness, legislatures have long had poor reputations with the public. Recall Mark Twain’s observation: It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress.
When the state legislature became full time in the 1960s, it was supposed to be a professional body. Both Governor Pat Brown and his gubernatorial rival, Ronald Reagan, supported the concept. From being praised soon after as the best legislative body in the nation its been a bumpy and downhill ride ever since.
Given recent opinion of the legislature, the move doesn’t seem to have made anyone happy with the work product or results.
Voters have shown their disdain by shackling the legislature with various restrictions over the years such as term limits and redistricting reform.
Some argue that it’s been voter interference through the initiative process that has made the legislature’s job impossible to do. But the image wounds have been largely self-inflicted. From the public’s perspective, legislators ignore the big problems in the state to follow narrow agendas that please special interests and in the end spend too much time with trivial or ideological squabbles.
The legislature can reduce some of the ill will if it accomplished solving some of the big problems the state faces and get away from matters that invite ridicule. However, the judge’s decision yesterday, which basically upholds the cynical approach the majority took to gain power, will only add to the legislature’s negative image.