In a win for lawmakers, Sacramento Superior Court Judge David I. Brown affirmed his decision today that Controller John Chiang cannot unilaterally block their pay if they submit a budget they consider balanced.
Attorneys for the Legislature and Chiang battled in an hour-long hearing that at one point had the controller's attorney suggesting lawmakers could just write a flimsy state budget on a ham sandwich wrapper and send it to the governor to get their pay.
Most of the hearing featured verbal sparring between Brown and deputy attorney general Ross Moody, who represented the controller. Chiang did not say Wednesday whether he would appeal.
Democratic legislative leaders who sued Chiang contend the controller illegally took control of the budget process when he found their budget out of balance and blocked their pay for 12 days last June.
During the hearing, one of the Legislature's attorneys, Fredric D. Woocher, said of Chiang, "When did he essentially get to appoint himself king?"
Judge Brown was sympathetic. He told Chiang's side, "If your position is correct, nobody is going to want to run for governor anymore. The big race in California is going to be for controller because the controller is going to be the person. He or she will be the top power in the state."
After issuing a lengthy opinion against the controller Tuesday, Judge Brown rejected most of the responses put forth in court today by Moody.
Chiang has argued that if he cannot judge the Legislature's budget for balance, then voter-approved Proposition 25 has no sheriff to ensure that lawmakers submit a legitimate, on-time budget by the June 15 deadline.
In a statement afterward, the controller said, "Today's ruling guts the no budget-no pay provisions that Californians placed into the Constitution. It gives lawmakers the sole authority to determine if they've done their job and deserve their pay. It is an affront to our basic governing principle of checks and balances, and it perpetrates a bait and switch on voters.
Moody said lawmakers "turned in incomplete work" last year.
"Under the reasoning of this tentative (ruling), you could take a piece of paper and write, 'We estimate revenues will meet spending,'" Moody said. "And you could wrap it around a ham sandwich, and you could send it over to the governor, and you could call it a budget. And you could keep getting paid. But it's still a ham sandwich."