Lawmakers Should Pay When They Fail to Pass the Budget by Deadline

California is governed by a bunch of lawbreakers. The State Constitution requires the Legislature to pass a budget bill by midnight on June 15. Yet, there they are, more than two months past deadline and nowhere near sending a budget to the governor’s desk.

Leaders of the Legislature’s Democratic majority unveiled a budget proposal a fortnight ago. However, that budget has yet to even be debated, much less voted upon, on the floor of either the state Assembly or Senate.

Everyone agrees that the state’s budget-making process is broken – July 1 marked the 19th time in the past 25 years that California has entered a new fiscal year without a budget – but no one has figured out how to fix it.

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Some insist the problem is that not only tax increases, but also the state budget must be approved by two-thirds of lawmakers in both chambers of the Legislature – a threshold required only by California. They suggest the solution is to rewrite state law to require a simple majority to pass both tax hikes and the budget.

But the California electorate will not hear of it. That’s why the super-majority requirement remains in place.

Well here’s a budget-reform proposal that California voters almost certainly can support: A ballot measure calling for lawmakers to pass a budget by the constitutional deadline or lose pay for every day the state budget is overdue.

If such a law were currently in place, California Senate President Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, would have forfeited more than $18,000 apiece by now. Rank-and-file members of the Legislature would have lost nearly $16,000.

That may seem Draconian, but it is no more so than the furloughs Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has imposed upon nearly 150,000 state workers, who now have three fewer days of salary each month to pay their mortgages, car notes and other expenses.

There are some rich lawmakers in Sacramento who really don’t need their state salary to make ends meet, who would be no more or less motivated to get a budget passed by the constitutional deadline.

But most members of the state Legislature are not wealthy. And the prospect of losing a month or two (or more) or their state salary almost certainly would encourage them to pass a budget sooner rather than later.

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