CA Overdue For Part-Time Legislature

JUNE 27, 2011

The latest budget drama shows how California needs a part-time Legislature. It hasn’t had one since the late 1960s. Since then, few budgets have been balanced while meeting the June 15 constitutional deadline. In the past 24 years, only one budget met both criteria, the 1999-2000 budget during the dot-com boom, when the state briefly was flush with cash from the capital gains tax.

Demonstrating callousness and insensitivity, several legislators have had the audacity to complain recently about having their pay cut by the Controller John Chiang. Yet the budget they submitted by the June 15 constitutional deadline — the only deadline they seem to care about — was unbalanced. As Chiang said, the numbers just didn’t add up.

Chiang’s accountant’s judgment came after Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed the out-of-whack budget.

So, even just neutering the Legislature — cutting the time it spends in Sacramento — would help. Many people argue that the more time the Legislature is not in session, the less damage legislators can inflict upon California’s taxpayers.

And while this has been a popular theme among voters, it is not popular among many legislators.

Budget Drama

Some lawmakers say that the controller overstepped his authority and made a political decision when he decided to dock their pay.

“The Legislature itself should have volunteered to rescind our own pay until we put together something real that the governor will sign,” said Assemblywoman Diane Harkey, R-Dana Point. Harkey said that because Democrats hold all of the cards and control the process, they ought to be able to pass a majority budget — especially since Proposition 25, which established the June 15 pay cutoff, was their idea, they wrote the language, and they pushed it through.

Thursday the Senate Republican Caucus held a press conference to refute Gov. Brown’s continued claims that Republicans have blocked the right of the people to vote on a budget.

“The governor is not telling the truth about what is holding up this budget,” said Senate Republican Leader Bob Dutton. “We are committed to fiscal balance. We have the highest unemployment and our jobs are leaving to go to other states. We need to change our way of doing business and get our fiscal house in order.”

“There are enough votes to put a measure before the people for a vote as long as there are reforms to vote on as well,” said Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres.

Dutton spoke about the massive and unsustainable public pension system and the need for a spending cap to stop state government from continuing to over-spend.

“The reason that there is no budget deal is that the governor, the Democratic majority in the Legislature and their allies refuse to allow the voters the opportunity to reform pensions and control state over-spending,” said Dutton.

A reporter if Dutton said “blames Gov. Brown because he is in the pocket of organized labor,” and “can’t stand up to the unions.” Dutton replied, “He is acting like there is greater concern for public employee unions than our children in school.”

Brown has not outlined his specific objections within the budget, but said there were “legally questionable maneuvers” used in it. Many have speculated that this comment refers to the $1.2 billion state building sale-leaseback deal, which Brown has already nixed once, and is still in the courts for a legal decision; as well as the $1 billion grab from the First 5 Commission.

Constitutional Amendments

Since 2001, there have been 19 different constitutional amendments proposing a part-time Legislature for California or dramatic change in the way the Legislature operates. But none of the bills ever even made it into a committee to be heard.

As recently as 2009-10, there were eight different constitutional amendments proposed, all of which shriveled on the vine before ever seeing the light of day.

Technically, all 19 of the bills are “pending referral” to a committee — a shameful abuse of the process which is supposed to belong to the people.

Legislators know that voters would wildly support a part-time Legislature, but can’t risk even letting the issue make it to a committee. And so the game is to forever stall a particular bill by leaving it in “pending referral” status, where it will never be heard, or receive proper analysis or debate.

Harkey said this is the fate of many Republican bills, particularly those seeking to change the legislative process.

She has mixed feelings about a part-time Legislature and said she would rather see a limited schedule requiring lawmakers to work exclusively on the budget before any other legislation is introduced.

As for new legislation, Harkey would like to see Brown put a stay on any and all legislation until the budget is fixed. “A majority vote budget would do that,” Harkey said about “fixing” the budget.

“They control the process.  We’ve been offering solutions, but it is up to the Democrats to draft the legislation and present it in a form they can get votes for. But they can’t get their members on board with taxes,” said Harkey. She explained that polling throughout the state shows that voters are not in favor of more or new taxes. “No-tax polling is off the charts in both Republican and Democratic districts.”

Many of the 19 constitutional amendments introduced since 2001 are repetitive, since legislators will usually reintroduce the same measure session after session, once it gets stuck in the black hole of “pending referral” status.

Every year, California has to borrow money in order to keep the state’s cash flow moving. But according to the Wall Street Journal, the state’s budget impass

could harm California’s ability to pay bills and borrow money, potentially endangering the state’s economic recovery.

The stalemate has placed California’s credit rating “at a crossroad,” said Standard and Poor’s analyst Gabriel Petek in a research note. He added that a further delay could cause a cash crisis or the passage of a budget “that relies on as-yet unrealized sources of revenue…or legally questionable maneuvers.

California’s credit rating is one of the worst in the country. With such serious issues as a potential trillion-dollar state public-pension obligation, many financial experts say that it’s unlikely that California will return to pre-recession employment levels until the end of the current decade.

Could the Legislature inflict any more damage than they already have? Yes.

Harkey said that instead of passing tax bills, which lawmakers know they don’t have the votes for, they are passing more regulations. This will only serve to cripple the state’s remaining businesses.

Part-Time Legislature

The time is ripe for either a part-time Legislature or at least one that is required to do nothing other than work on a budget for one year until it is passed.

The states with full-time Legislatures — California, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania — all have suffered massive budget deficits and out-of-control public employee unions and unfunded public employee pensions.

The states which currently operate with a part-time Legislature are either okay, or are working responsibly to clean up a public employee pension and budget mess. They are: Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Wyoming. Also working well are “hybrid” legislatures that include both part-time and full-time aspects: Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Vermont and West Virginia.

It is interesting to note that the Texas Legislature meets only 60 days every two years, as do the legislatures in 12 other states, including New Hampshire, North and South Dakota, Georgia, and Idaho.

While legislators may not be able to get a constitutional amendment past the majority party in California, the people would wildly support a part-time Legislature, or one greatly restricted.

It is time to put lawmakers in a time-out; they have proven that they are incapable of selflessly running the state, and instead are whining about not receiving paychecks. That, at least, is a condition all too familiar with California’s private-sector taxpayers, who have grown weary of footing the bill while being threatened with more tax increases every budget year.

The list of the constitutional amendments, by legislative session:

2001-02: ACA 16;
2003-04: none;
2005-06: ACA 19, SCA 26, SCA 30;
2007-08: ACA 7, SCA 27, SCA4X 1;
2009-10: ACA 29, ACA4X 1, ACA4X 2, SCA 2, SCA 17, SCA 25, SCA1X 2, SCA2X 2; and 2011-12: ACA 3, ACA 20, SCA 2, SCA 6.

Katy Grimes

9 comments

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  1. John Davey
    John Davey 27 June, 2011, 07:26

    Perhaps we go after a part time Assembly and extend the term limits provision for the Assembly to 5 terms. Part time Senate, and keep the term limits currently in place.

    No legislation can be considered until a budget is resolved. (unless deemed an emergency).

    Reduce legislative Staff (share resources among all legislators).

    Eliminate Paid Board/Commission members – with only the full time Board Chair being paid. The rest would be volunteers. Boards/Commissions meet via teleconference to eliminate travel budgets.

    No board or commission appointments for termed out, or former legislators for 8 years. No Legislator family members or staffers may be board or commission members for 6 years.

    Legislators in session will stay in dorm/apartments. Light Rail or Bus service from the dorms to the capitol. (or build a dorm at 3rd and Capitol Mall [old Sac Union Building] with shuttle service) District offices get a single vehicle to use.

    When businesses state wide are finding ways to tighten the belt to survive, there is no reason that the government cannot do so as well.

    Reply this comment
  2. CalWatchdog
    CalWatchdog 27 June, 2011, 08:35

    Excellent suggestions John!

    Katy

    Reply this comment
  3. Bravoman
    Bravoman 27 June, 2011, 09:17

    While I agree that the legislature should be cut to part time, I do not agree with the Republican’s request for Pensions to be put on the ballot. Mainly because Pensions are protected under State and Federal Laws and are part of a Collective Bargaining process, if voted on by the voters it would be over turned in Federal Court. I agree that Pensions need to be reformed, but it must come from the Legislature and the Collective Bargaining Process, not by angry voters who are looking for vengeance and have State Employees in their sights!

    Reply this comment
  4. david kerr
    david kerr 27 June, 2011, 13:54

    I like Texas, where the legislature meets for 140 days every two years. Even better would be two days every 140 years.

    Reply this comment
  5. Rex ther Wonder Dog!
    Rex ther Wonder Dog! 30 June, 2011, 11:31

    While I agree that the legislature should be cut to part time, I do not agree with the Republican’s request for Pensions to be put on the ballot. Mainly because Pensions are protected under State and Federal Laws and are part of a Collective Bargaining process, if voted on by the voters it would be over turned in Federal Court.
    =============
    You have no idea of what you are talking about.

    Past pensions are protected by state and federal law, FUTURE pensions for year not yet worked are NOT protected. Public pension contracts are not a federal issue. I know why you don’t want voters to vote on it, becuause you woudl get smacked back to the stone ages. Funny how you clown public employees are upset that there is no vote on taxes (well there was in November 2009 with Props 1A-1G, and the pension taxes increases were rejected 2-1 margin)

    As for collective bargaining, public employees have NO constritutional right to it, it is a statutory right and can be taken away as fast as it was granted-see Wisconsin.

    I agree that Pensions need to be reformed, but it must come from the Legislature and the Collective Bargaining Process, not by angry voters who are looking for vengeance and have State Employees in their sights!
    ================
    Once again, you should go to a local community college and take con law 101. Pension reform does NOT have to come from either the legislature or collective bargaining, it can be voted out by prop. because it is a stautory issue, and statutory issues can be determined by the people on a ballot-go review Prop 13, and also review the public employee comments about it before 1978, because your comments parrot them 100%. Those baloney whoppers did not work in 1978, and it wont work in 2011 either.

    Reply this comment
  6. SkippingDog
    SkippingDog 30 June, 2011, 19:12

    Correlation is not causation.

    Keep repeating that, Katy, until you begin to understand the concept.

    Reply this comment
  7. LetThemEatCake
    LetThemEatCake 2 July, 2011, 10:19

    Part-time – I don’t know ….

    Many cities have part-time electeds – & what it really means is the Bureaucracy, & the Special Interests, are even more empowered, then they would be, otherwise.

    State Republican promoted “term-limits” – (shortsightly designed to get rid of 1 person, then Speaker Willie Brown) – have given us elected “representatives” who have no qualifications, no experience, no track record, & who’s main goals are lining up their next position while filling their own pockets.

    Too many “fixes” are aimed at the symptoms – not the disease – & ultimately make the problem worse.

    Reply this comment
  8. linda randall
    linda randall 15 February, 2012, 13:30

    We need a part time ca government. It is not necessary to pass 600 bills. We don’t need them what ever they are. If the government was part time we could get rid of a multitude of aids, vacations paid by us to exotic places and a reduction in expenses for those greedy legislators

    Reply this comment
  9. Linda
    Linda 1 May, 2012, 09:03

    I agree with the part time legislature. They passed 600 bills this year. What could they have passed that was not already on the books. They should have worked only on the economy and lessening all the rules and regs.on BUSINESSES. I don’t care what party they are power corrupts and they begin to feel that they are the one.

    Reply this comment

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