Posts Tagged ‘referendum’
June 6th, 2011 at 5:20 pm
California’s Constitutional Crisis

A blog post last Friday by Loren Kaye at Fox and Hounds Daily provides another variation on the theme of California’s broken governing structure.

Two budget-related developments yesterday bring a small amount of clarity to the political positioning on achieving a deal. But their long-term effect is to re-allocate political power.

Controller John Chiang released a legal opinion interpreting the section of Proposition 25 that would halt salary and expense payments to the Legislature if it fails to transmit a budget to the Governor by June 15. His lawyers concluded that even if the budget is timely passed and sent to the Governor, if it is not a balanced budget, then legislators would forfeit their pay until they pass one that is balanced. This twist arises from an earlier measure, Proposition 58 in 2004, which requires that the Legislature may not send to the Governor, nor may the Governor sign, a budget that would spend more than the revenues estimated for the year. Until the Controller’s memo, this constitutional provision had no teeth. Now that provision has been given real force, and the arbiter of whether a budget is balanced – and therefore whether the Legislature will be paid – will be Controller John Chiang.

Within several hours of this disclosure, Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg announced that his SB 653 would be folded into a budget trailer bill. His proposal would provide broad local taxing authority (contingent on existing voter approval requirements) to counties and school districts, which would substantially increase the level of uncertainty surrounding economic development. The significance of including the language into a budget trailer bill is that those bills are granted immunity from referendum, even if passed by a simple majority vote. This was another consequence of Proposition 25 that was warned against, but pooh-poohed by proponents. This maneuver has ramifications that extend well beyond today’s budget controversy, and could presage the demise of the people’s cherished referendum power, 100 years after it was first granted.

The consequences of Proposition 25 on the power dynamics in California government go far beyond just passing the state budget. And we’re only beginning to see their boundaries tested.

So, as of last Friday, California’s Controller claimed the power to determine the state’s budget process.  Maybe next week the state’s Attorney General can find a way to trump him.  After that, why doesn’t the Treasurer figure out how to get in on the fun?  In Golden State government, everyone wants power, but none claim responsibility.