SACRAMENTO (AP) — The Legislature’s Democratic leaders filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the state controller for blocking lawmakers’ pay last year after deciding they had failed to meet their constitutional deadline for passing a balanced budget.

Assembly Speaker John Perez and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said they are not seeking back pay, but rather want the courts to clarify whether Controller John Chiang overstepped his constitutional authority when he withheld lawmakers’ pay.

“This is fundamentally an issue of separation of powers,” Perez, D-Los Angeles, said at a Capitol news conference.

Chiang, also a Democrat, acted under Proposition 25, an initiative approved by voters in 2010. He said he reviewed the budget passed by the Democratic majority and determined it was not balanced. The lawsuit filed in Sacramento County Superior Court says it was and that Chiang overstepped his authority.

He issued a statement after the Democrats’ news conference saying he welcomes the court’s review.

“The issue before us is not the role of my office, but how to enact the will of the voters,” Chiang said. “While nothing in the Constitution gives me the authority to judge the honesty, legitimacy or viability of a budget, it does clearly restrict my authority to issue pay to Legislators when they fail to enact a balanced budget by the constitutional deadline of June 15.”

Rank-and-file lawmakers have a base annual salary of $95,291 but can make about $30,000 more through per diem payments. They lost an average of $4,800 in salary and per diem pay before they passed a budget that Chiang said was balanced.

Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said legislative leaders are not picking a fight with Chiang or with Gov. Jerry Brown, a fellow Democrat who had vetoed the Legislature’s budget because it contained billions of dollars in borrowing and questionable budgetary maneuvers. But he said they have a responsibility to defend the Legislature’s independence.

“Neither the governor nor any member of the executive branch may brandish the threat of withholding legislative pay because they disagree with the decisions made by the legislative branch,” Steinberg said. “Imagine the mischief five years from now or 10 years from now if a controller is from a different political party than the majority party and wants to leverage the budget for his or her own partisan or political purposes.”

Under Proposition 25, Democrats could pass the budget with their simple majority, but Republicans had balked at providing the two-thirds majority needed to raise taxes.

Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, was not consulted about the lawsuit, said a spokesman, Bill Bird. Perez informed Assembly Minority Leader Connie Conway, R-Tulare, said her spokeswoman, Sabrina Lockhart.

“She hasn’t weighed in on it beyond the fact that she’s aware of it being filed,” Lockhart said.

Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, criticized the lawsuit.

“This is arrogant and I think it is reflective of a significant disconnect between our elected leadership and ordinary Californians,” he said.

Chiang asserted that he has the obligation to “determine whether the expected revenues will equal or exceed planned expenditures in the budget,” under Article 4 of the state Constitution.

The legislative leaders hired Arthur Scotland, a retired appeals court chief justice, to represent them. He will be paid $435 an hour from the Legislature’s operating budget, Perez said.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.)

Comments (10)
  1. Dufuss says:

    Darrell Steinberg……Have you no SHAME.

  2. marlyn davis says:

    You voted this man in to do a job now you want him out because he did the job???? sounds a little crazy to me, how can this be????

  3. Ginna says:

    Chiang is making both sides angry? Could it be? A politician that works for the people who elected him? Hmm. Maybe he should give the idea of being Governor a shot. Maybe he’ll actually be able to do something. Then again, his power lies in being Controller. If he switches jobs, he’ll just be another lame duck that can’t do anything due to incessant bickering on both sides of the aisle. I say let him stay Controller as long as he wants and let both the Democrat and Republican sides eat old shoes and deal with it.

  4. nObama says:

    unreal…can i sue to get my taxes back that were wasted by these clowns?

  5. repukehater says:

    shameful. You get paid when you do your job, if you dont do you job you dont get paid, its simple really

    1. Fred says:

      Note that its your team that is leading the charge. I’m just sayin’…

  6. rmcsticks says:

    These guys think everyday is a cash cow…. suprize, the cow died , know do your job or get out !

  7. rmcsticks says:

    These guys think everyday is a cash cow…. suprize, the cow died , know do your job or get out ! !

  8. mightymousetotherescue says:

    So the controller that we elected to do his job is being sued by the legislaters who want to be paid for not doing there jobs. Now I have heard everything, in other words the legislaters do not have to do the job they were elected for and get paid anyway , this is outrageous. The tax payers will be slaves for the Democrat government officials if these a–h—-s get away with this.

  9. jerseycat07503 says:

    finally some one in governmentf balls this is one person we need to keep

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