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Commentary: One party budget scam failed voters

April 28, 2012|By Allan Mansoor

Reform is necessary to restore voters' faith and enforce forfeiture of legislator pay.

The lawsuit filed by Assembly Democrats challenging the state controller's decision to rightfully withhold legislator pay is a slap in the face to every Californian who expects the Legislature to do one of its most fundamental jobs: pass a budget by the June 15 constitutional deadline.

Last year, the Legislature did not pass a balanced budget by June 15. The controller withheld members' pay. Now a group of Democratic Assembly members have filed a lawsuit challenging the controller's decision. They seek a declaration that the Legislature alone has the authority to determine whether its budget balances. In seeking this declaration, they expose one of the biggest scams ever perpetuated on California's voters.

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In 2010, California voters passed Proposition 25. They were told that Proposition 25 would withhold legislator pay whenever they fail to pass a balanced budget by June 15. This sounds good, but Proposition 25 was drafted in a way that the pay forfeiture provisions would be ineffective. This was deliberate. The proponents never imagined that legislators would actually lose pay. Instead, the whole measure was a ruse intended to create a one-party budget process that opened one of the biggest legislative loopholes we've ever seen. The scam worked.

Legislative rules require a two-thirds vote to pass an "urgency" item. An urgency item is a measure that can immediately take effect. The budget is an urgency item. When Proposition 25 changed budget votes to a simple majority, it created a loophole allowing bills to immediately take effect, without a two-thirds vote, as long as the bill is linked to a token expenditure in the budget. Furthermore, these bills are only heard in the budget committee and bypass the usual committee process.

The result of this loophole is that new regulations can be created behind closed doors and passed without ever having a public hearing in a policy committee that specializes in the bill's subject matter. Once passed, these regulations can take effect immediately without any notice to those who are affected.

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