Update June 21: The answer is “yes.”

When the legislature slipped Governor Jerry Brown a budget just under the wire, lawmakers thought they had met the requirement under Proposition 25 to keep getting paid. That law, passed by voters in November, withholds legislator pay for every day after the June 15 constitutional deadline that there is no budget.

But complications have arisen, as they say. Brown vetoed the budget, citing a surfeit of “gimmicks” — questionable accounting maneuvers that eliminate the deficit on paper but in the real world… maybe not so much.

So op-ed writers and interest groups are calling for the guy who issues the checks, state controller John Chiang, to stop paying the legislature.

Will he or won’t he?

In the following interview KQED’s John Myers breaks down the issues for us. A summary of his answers appear after each audio clip.

John Myers: Prop 25 and Prop 58 as they pertain to legislators’ pay

  • Prop 25 says legislators must submit a budget by June 15 in order to get paid. A previous initiative, Prop 58, says the budget must be balanced. Does the budget submitted (and vetoed) by the governor quality as “balanced”? And does the controller have the power to make that decision? Currently, only the legislature and the governor decide that, by virtue of their agreement on a document — the budget — that states it to be the case.

How “gimmicky” is this budget compared to others deemed to be balanced?

  • Myers says this budget isn’t more gimmicky, and is probably less so, than in previous years in which such questionable maneuvers as moving the pay date of state workers by one day were used in order to eliminate the deficit on paper.

    All budgets are based on assumptions of what expenses and revenues will be, and California has had years in which revenue turned out much better or worse than the estimate. The question is whether that initial calculation is realistic or not.

Is this a predicament or an opportunity for Controller John Chiang?

  • Editorials and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association are calling for Chiang to withhold lawmakers’ salaries. But legislators believe they have met the requirement to submit an on-time budget and should keep receiving their salaries. Though Chiang is squarely in the middle of this debate, there’s a good chance that it will end up in court no matter what he decides.

How much of a factor was the pay issue in getting the legislature to submit an on-time budget?

  • A lot of people believe the budget submitted just under the deadline was motivated by the pay issue, but that may be overstating it, Myers says. As much as anything, Democrats were mindful that this was the first year they were able to pass a budget with a simple majority vote, and they were thinking in terms of public perception. Still, a lot of legislators are not wealthy people and they do want to get paid.

    One thing to keep in mind: The amount of money at stake, ab out $50,000 per day, is really symbolic when weighed against the overall annual budget of $113 billion. But the issue is politically powerful.

    If their pay is withheld, can they ever get it back?

  • Nope. California is now the only state that would basically dock legislators’ pay. Plus they would lose their per diem, roughly $140 daily in expenses.

    The bottom line

  • The legislature is held in extremely low esteem by the public, and people are looking for someone to blame.

    The controller says he’ll make the decision this week. His staff is weighing the necessity of considering Prop 25’s requirement to pass an on-time budget in the context of Prop 58’s mandate that the budget be balanced, as well as the fact that the controller has no power under the state constitution other than to write the checks.

    There’s also a separation fo powers issue: Should controllers be given the power to unilaterally decide what is a balanced budget and what isn’t, in light of their newly created ability to make legislators suffer financial hardship?

    Will State Legislators Have Their Pay Withheld? 21 June,2011Jon Brooks

  • Author

    Jon Brooks

    Jon Brooks is the host and editor of KQED’s health and technology blog, Future of You. He is the former editor of KQED’s daily news blog, News Fix. In 2014, he won a California Journalism Award for his coverage of ride services like Uber and Lyft and the taxi industry. A veteran blogger, he previously worked for Yahoo! in various news writing and editing roles. Jon is also a playwright whose work has been produced in San Francisco, New York, Italy, and around the U.S. He has written about film for his own blog and studied film at Boston University. He has an MFA in Creative Writing from Brooklyn College.

    Sponsored by

    Become a KQED sponsor