Dan Walters

By Dan Walters
Published: Friday, Jan. 27, 2012 – 12:00 am | Page 3A

Last Tuesday, the Public Policy Institute of California issued a new poll that found, among other things, just 17 percent of the state’s voters like the Legislature’s performance.

Simultaneously, the Legislature’s top leaders provided another reason for Californians to harbor such scorn.

Assembly Speaker John Pérez and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg announced that they would spend untold amounts of taxpayers’ money on high-priced lawyers to sue state Controller John Chiang over his decision to withhold legislators’ paychecks last year after they failed to enact a balanced budget.

Chiang was merely enforcing a new provision of the state constitution that voters enacted in 2010 – a change of budget law that the Democratic legislative leaders themselves had championed, along with their allies in public employee unions.

Proposition 25’s chief purpose was to eliminate the two-thirds legislative vote requirement on budgets, thereby allowing Democrats to pass budgets without Republicans. Concerned that voters would see that as a naked power grab, the measure’s sponsors included a sweetener: legislators’ pay would be docked if they didn’t balance the budget by June 15.

It was a campaign gimmick, and the measure’s sponsors never thought that it would actually be applied. After all, they assumed, the Legislature could pass some kind of budget by June 15 and pronounce it balanced to technically comply.

That’s exactly what the Legislature did, but Gov. Jerry Brown then vetoed the plan, declaring it unbalanced, and Chiang invoked Proposition 25 to cut off legislators’ pay.

The howling from the Capitol’s occupants was tellingly self-serving. How dare Chiang take the measure seriously, they complained; isn’t he a loyal Democrat?

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