After Chiang's Coup, Legislature Should Go Home

Protests against the legislature are common at the state Capitol.

But in these strangest of California government days, it's time for the legislature to turn the tables and launch its protest -- by marching right out of the Capitol and heading home.

What else is there for the legislature to do, now that they are not being paid?

As former deputy state treasurer Mark Paul (with whom I co-authored a book) writes in his blog:

"Just when you think California governance can’t get more bizarre, Controller John Chiang, using constitutional authority he admits he doesn’t have, has decided to withhold pay from legislators for having passed a gimmicky budget, which is the only kind of budget that California’s current constitutional and political balance permits them to pass."

That's right. Chiang's own statement noted that the constitution does not make him the arbiter of budgets. But in denying lawmakers' pay, Chiang made himself arbiter of the budget.

The legislature can't pass a balanced budget because too many fiscal rules tie its hands.

Just to name two: The California constitution requires a 2/3 vote for raising taxes, and minority Republicans block that. It requires a 2/3 vote to cut the biggest piece of the budget, education, and legislators rightly don't want to do that.

Chiang makes this latter point himself in his statement by saying that the budget isn't in balance because it includes an effective $1.3 billion cut to education without the required 2/3 vote.

So what should lawmakers do? 

Certainly, lawmakers would be correct to visit their full legal and constitutional wrath on Chiang and Gov. Jerry Brown, who vetoed the budget in question.

But there will be time for that later.

For now, it's best to go home and invite Chiang, Brown and Treasurer Bill Lockyer to own up to their Kafkaesque coup and impose their own budget. By fiat, if need be. Presumably any dissenters will be dealt with by the California National Guard.

Lawmakers, just like other people, are under no obligation to work for free.

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