Posted at 02:12 PM on Friday, Jun. 24, 2011
By Jim Boren

As cynical as I have become about the California Legislature, I was still stunned by the reaction to Controller John Chiang’s decision not to pay lawmakers for not passing a balanced budget. Democrats had no idea that the controller wouldn’t play along with their phony budget.

Some lashed out like children, while others suggested that Chiang’s decision had caused a constitutional crisis in California over the separation of powers. Never mind the crisis caused by not passing a balanced budget by the date set in the state Constitution.

They blamed everyone but themselves. The biggest complainers were the Democrats. The minority Republicans wisely followed the rule of staying quiet when you don’t have anything productive to say. But the majority Democrats had no such sense and whined about not getting paid.

Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D- Los Angeles, offered the dumbest response to Chiang’s no-pay decision: “I now have to explain to my wife and daughter that we won’t be able to pay the bills.” Can you imagine how that struck Californians who are out of jobs and losing their homes to foreclosure? Lawmakers haven’t even missed their first paycheck yet.

Gatto was soon trying to backtrack from his statement, which was exploited by two conservative radio hosts from Southern California. They organized a food drive for Gatto in front of his office, and used Gatto’s own words to make him out to be a fool.

Gatto’s initial reaction says a lot about how out of touch our lawmakers are to the daily economic challenges that Californians must endure in this recession.

It is one more reason that we need to go back to a part-time Legislature where lawmakers spend part of the year in Sacramento and part of the year doing other jobs in their home districts. They would live under the same laws coming out of Sacramento, pay their own bills and buy their own gas for their cars.

When the taxpayers subsidize your car, give you a gasoline credit card and hire staff to cater to all your whims, you can quickly get out of touch. We have lawmakers who are no longer public servants, but think the public is there to serve them.

Full-time legislating has given us full-time arrogance, and it was on display after Chiang announced legislators wouldn’t get paid because the budget they passed was not balanced.

This debacle turned out to be Democratic politics coming home to roost. The Democrats got their labor pals to put Proposition 25 on last year’s ballot to allow them to pass a budget with a majority vote instead of the two-thirds requirement. To get voters to approve it, they put in a provision that said lawmakers wouldn’t get paid if they didn’t balance the budget. But they outsmarted themselves.

The Democrats never thought the provision would be an issue because they could pass a budget without Republicans, and that would be the end of the issue. One problem, though. The budget they passed was not actually balanced.

The Democratic governor vetoed it and the Democratic controller ruled that because the budget numbers didn’t add up, lawmakers wouldn’t get paid. This was not Republicans telling Democratic lawmakers they had not lived up to provisions of Proposition 25. It was leaders from their own party.

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