I was absolutely certain that there was insufficient moral courage in the California state government to actually make stick the new rule that if California legislators don’t produce a balanced budget on time every year, then California legislators don’t get paid until they actually do produce a budget. That’s probably because I’m a bit cynical when it comes to political foxes and fiscal hen-houses, particularly when it comes to rapidly-becoming-failed states like California. So I assumed that Gov. Brown’s veto was, while nice, just part of the political kabuki theater that is West Coast politics.
Turns out I was wrong:
Controller John Chiang on Tuesday said he was acting under terms of a law approved by voters last year, the “On-Time Budget Act of 2010,” to withhold lawmakers’ pay if they miss a mid-June deadline for balancing the state’s books.
Democrats pushed a budget through the legislature last week, but Governor Jerry Brown, a fellow Democrat, vetoed the budget a day later, saying it was filled with “legally questionable maneuvers, costly borrowing and unrealistic savings” and didn’t close a $10 billion gap.
Chiang on Tuesday vowed to withhold paychecks until lawmakers submit a balanced spending plan for the fiscal year that starts on July 1.
Turns out Chiang is term-limited in his current job: besides, withholding legislator pay for noncompliance with the law isn’t exactly going to… hurt a politician with the voters, is it?
Meanwhile, California Republicans are settling in for a nice, long, pay-free session of the legislature:
“We believe the best use of our energy at this time is crafting a no-tax-increase budget that the people of California want and deserve,” says Sabrina Lockhart, spokeswoman for Assembly minority leader Connie Conway, in an e-mail. “Republicans have already shown there is a path to close the budget gap without tax hikes, while protecting education and public safety.”
Essentially, this tragic state of affairs came into place because California Republicans have demanded serious concessions in exchange for their help (and political cover). It boils down to this: there’s a 9.1 billion dollar hole that has to be filled with spending cuts, tax hikes, or a combination of both. As near as I can make out, the Republicans will not budge on tax hikes (which would require a special election to ratify) unless the same ballot has measures on spending caps and pension reform (cue the screaming from the unions now), and to bypass the GOP in the legislature entirely requires an all-cuts budget (cue the screaming from the Democratic party, from Governor Brown on down). Either way, the Democrats aren’t going to be happy.
Imagine my indifference. And imagine how little I care about getting this one wrong in the first place.
Moe Lane (crosspost)