In California Budget Standoff, Lawmakers’ Salaries Are on the Line

By: - June 8, 2011 12:00 am

California lawmakers haven’t exactly been in a rush to finish their state budgets in recent years. In two of the past three years, the Legislature has missed its constitutional budget deadline of June 15 by 85 days or more. That’s longer than some states’ entire legislative sessions.

A ballot measure approved last November, however, is cranking up the pressure on California lawmakers this year. The measure suspends legislators’ pay for each day that goes by without a new budget. Since California’s Legislature is full-time – and the best-paid in the nation – Sacramento watchers believe that the current budget endgame could come sooner than in the recent past.

The Los Angeles Times reports today (June 8)  that legislative Republicans, who have flatly rejected any talk of tax increases all session, now “are prepared to let voters decide whether to close California’s stubborn budget deficit with higher taxes.” The concession would come in exchange “for major changes in state spending, public pensions and regulatory policies,” which Democrats have resisted for much of the year. The paper notes that the progress in negotiations comes with a week to go until the state’s budget deadline “and with lawmakers’ pay hanging in the balance.”

But there are reasons to suspect that an on-time budget still may not happen. For one, the Times notes, negotiations between Democrats and Republicans are still deadlocked on a major question: whether the GOP will agree to higher taxes in the interim period before voters have their say. That’s a priority for Democratic Governor Jerry Brown, but a nonstarter for Republicans.

The Christian Science Monitor points out another potential stumbling block for a punctual budget. On June 10, just days before the state budget deadline, a bipartisan redistricting commission is scheduled to announce California’s new legislative map and lawmakers are sure to pore over its implications before casting any final votes on a controversial budget.

“Overnight, some who are currently in Republican strongholds could find themselves scrambling to win Democratic votes — and vice versa,” the Monitor reports. “The result: a wait-and-see approach toward the budget.”

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