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ha_jchiang48617.JPGMany California lawmakers sharply criticized Controller John Chiang's decision in June to cut off their pay, but some appear to be going beyond words to signal their frustration.

Five bills sponsored by Chiang were killed by Assembly Democrats during the past week. The moves highlight the tough crowd that Chiang faces in the Legislature after he cost each rank-and-file lawmaker $4,830 during a 12-day pay block.

Chiang's office said he sponsored 15 bills in all this session. Six measures are dead, four are scheduled for hearings next week, four are sitting in appropriations committees and one is at the governor's desk.

Four of the measures killed during the past week, which addressed local government finances, came in the wake of the scandal in the Southern California city of Bell and could be brought back for consideration next year.

"This is a critical package of reforms that the state needs to prevent the next 'Bell' type meltdown at the local level," Chiang spokesman Jacob Roper said in a statement.

Two other bills heard in committee on Wednesday drew just one aye vote between them.

Senate Bill 186, by Democratic Sens. Christine Kehoe of San Diego, and Mark DeSaulnier of Concord, would have expanded some of the controller's authorities to perform discretionary audits. Senate Bill 449, by Democratic Sen. Fran Pavley of Agoura Hills, would have also added more financial oversight of local governments.

Republican Assemblyman Steve Knight of Palmdale voted against both bills. Knight said he didn't want to give the controller more power, but he said the choice of most Democrats to abstain from voting on the bills "seemed like a political vote."

On Tuesday, two bills were pulled from committee agendas at the last minute by their respective authors. A third bill was killed in a similar fashion last week. The controller's office referred comment to the authors, saying the decisions were made entirely by the authors.

Assembly Bill 752, by Democratic Assemblywoman Julia Brownley of Santa Monica, would have required local agencies in control of granted land to develop plans for rising sea levels. Curtis Fossum, the State Lands Commission's executive officer, said the rationale for pulling the bill likely was not related to its content, but a spokeswoman for Brownley said there were outstanding issues with the bill that needed to be worked through.

Assembly Bill 229 by Assemblyman Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, would have increased the controller's power over reviewing the annual financial audits of local agencies and have made those audits comply with stricter standards. The bill will be gutted and amended to address reform at the Commission on Teacher Credentialing, which is facing its own scandal.

"I remain committed to...ensuring we restore the public's trust in local government," Lara said in a statement. He cited the measure's high costs for pulling the bill, adding that it "was one of many different approaches to addressing local governance accountability and transparency."

Assembly Bill 276, by Luis Alejo, D-Salinas, would have imposed heavier fines on cities that failed to file some financial transaction reports with the controller.

Alejo's office has not responded to requests for comment.

It hasn't been complete doom for Chiang though. Two bills that would reform the state's pension boards passed out of their first committee. Assembly Bill 873 by Assemblyman Warren Furutani, D-Gardena, would bar former members of the state's pensions boards from quickly coming back to lobby or contract with the board. Senate Bill 439 by Sen.Gloria Negrete McLeod, D-Chino, would lower gift limits for board members.

In addition, Assembly Bill 363 passed the Senate last week and has been on the governor's desk since Friday. The measure would make minor changes to the State Lottery Commission's reporting procedures.

Meanwhile, three Chiang-sponsored measures have key hearings set for next week, including the only one carried by a Republican, Assembly Bill 253. Introduced by Cameron Smyth, R-Santa Clarita, the bill would refine the controller's authority in setting uniform accounting and reporting practices for local agencies. Three other Chiang bills are parked in the Assembly Appropriations Committee, and another measure has been held in an Assembly committee since May.

"The controller has enjoyed a great working relationship with legislative authors this session, and he is confident that the Legislature will see the policy merits of each proposal," Roper said.

On Tuesday, five Republican Assembly members sent a letter to Attorney General Kamala Harris, asking her office to determine whether Chiang has the authority to rule on whether a budget is balanced.

Chiang said earlier this month that he does have the authority, and he blocked legislators' pay after ruling that the budget passed in mid-June was not balanced.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Updated at 4:00 p.m. to add comments from Assemblyman Lara on AB 229.

PHOTO CREDIT: Controller John Chiang visits The Bee's Capitol Bureau in downtown Sacramento on Wednesday, July 14, 2010. Hector Amezcua, Sacramento Bee.


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