Prop. 25 never promised accountability

April 30, 2012

By Katy Grimes

California voters were duped by Democratic politicians, and they will probably do it again.

Proposition 25, the “no budget, no pay” measure, was the creation of über liberal former state Sen. John Burton. Prop 25 was sold to voters as an accountability measure in which lawmakers’ pay would be withheld if they couldn’t pass a balanced budget on time. One of the biggest selling points was that the measure lowered the threshold for passing a budget from two-thirds, to a simple majority vote of the Legislature.

The measure was touted as a way to break Sacramento’s annual government stoppage. But it was a scam heavily promoted by the Democratic-controlled legislature to be able to pass any kind of budget they wanted. Voters bought the lies.

Proposition 25 made it easier for politicians to increase taxes, spend taxpayer money ahead of collecting it, and do it all without consequences or accountability to the voters and taxpayers.

That is exactly what legislators in Sacramento did last June. They couldn’t get a budget passed with a two-thirds majority because Republicans wouldn’t vote for tax increases. So Democrats pulled a fast one and passed a budget with Democrat-only support, claiming it was balanced. Within days it was announced that the state was again in the red, and the “balanced budget” was a phony.

State Controller John Chiang withheld legislators’ pay, claiming that he was lawfully acting under 2010’s Proposition 25 because the budget passed by lawmakers was not balanced. Lawmakers lost pay for 12 days last year.

Once the Legislature passed a new budget, their pay resumed. But the Democratic leaders, Sen. President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento and Assembly Speaker John Perez of Los Angeles, filed a lawsuit in January, claiming that the controller overreached his authority.

Last week, Sacramento County Superior Court Judge David Brown ruled that Chiang violated the separation of powers clause of the California Constitution.

“It is obvious that the voters of California were manipulated by the majority party when they asked Californians to support Proposition 25, because the only people who can determine whether a budget is on time and balanced are the legislators themselves,” said Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar.

Huff is right.

Democrats are still celebrating the ruling, and insist that legislators cannot pass phony budgets because of the governor’s veto authority.

“I think the people of California will be glad that the court saw this the right way in the long term. Bottom line is, you can’t empower any official to leverage the pay of elected officials to try to achieve a result,” said Steinberg. “There’s a real opportunity for mischief.”

Judge Brown’s ruling is legally correct. He merely upheld the Constitution, and did not dally in politics. But voters still were duped.


The requirement for a two-thirds vote of both the state Assembly and Senate to pass a budget dates all the way back to 1933. A two-thirds majority vote on budgets has provided historical assurance that both major political parties be considered in spending plans, and it assures that all areas of the state are considered as well.

While Proposition 25 lowered the vote threshold to pass a budget, it also contained language that stated that appropriations (budget) bills can be passed with a simple majority. According to Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, some legal experts say that this means new taxes can be approved using this loophole, thereby circumventing the two-thirds requirement of Proposition 13.

Proving that Prop. 25 was just a way to circumvent the two-thirds accountability, in 2010 during the Prop. 25 campaign Steinberg said, “The question then becomes one of strategy and timing. Do you try to accomplish it all at once, or do you set a two- to four-year to six–year plan that takes a big piece or two at a time to voters?”

“It will send an important signal that Californians believe in majority rule and will help set the stage for taking on some of the regressive elements of Prop. 13,” the United Teachers Los Angeles told their members. The California Federation of Teachers and the California Teachers Association advanced a similar line.

After the passage of Prop. 25, voters assumed that an entity other than the Legislature would make the call, said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California. “For people who supported Proposition 25, having the Legislature decide whether a budget is balanced is like letting teenagers decide their own curfew,” he said.

California is in a world of hurt, and Proposition 25 is only propelling us closer to real insolvency.

Upholding the Constitution

While Judge Brown found that the controller lacked the authority to decide whether the Legislature’s budget is balanced, his ruling was correct. The Controller does not have the authority to judge the validity of the budget.  According to Judge Brown, that authority is not in Prop. 25 and not in the state Constitution. That power rests solely with the Legislature.

“The Court must note that its ruling does not focus on the wisdom of either the June 15, 2011, budget bill, or Defendant’s criticisms and assessment of the bill,” Judge Brown wrote in his decision. “Defendant violated the separation of power clause of the Constitution as he essentially engaged in a function delegated exclusively to the Legislature.

“The Legislature is entrusted with the authority to pass the budget and make appropriations, including appropriations for legislative salaries. In these circumstances, the Controller’s audit powers are purely ministerial.”

By design, there was no enforcement mechanism built into Proposition 25.

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