State Lawmakers Passed a Budget, but Where are the Republicans?

Much of the news coming out of Sacramento concerns the Legislature's passage of a budget by the constitutional deadline -- June 15 -- last week. In the past the Legislature has blown right past that constitutional deadline. What is different?

Back in 2010 California voters approved Proposition 25, which lowered the requirement for lawmakers to pass a budget from two-thirds of members of the State Senate and State Assembly to a simple majority of both legislative houses. Proposition 25 also sweetened the deal for voters by providing that legislators would lose their pay if they "didn't do their jobs" and failed to pass a budget by June 15.

The consequence of Prop 25 is that Democrats can pass a budget without needing even one Republican vote. But what does this budget look like?

Well, only a simple majority is needed to impose spending cuts, but in order to impose revenue increases, either by increasing fees or taxes, two-thirds of both legislative houses must agree. That means Republicans must get on board in order to either raise revenue, or put a measure on the ballot asking voters whether they will agree to raise revenue. In what may be the understatement of the decade, it is safe to say that members of the GOP are averse to raising either fees or taxes.

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Last year Governor Jerry Brown involved Republicans in budget talks because he wanted them to agree to put his tax proposals on the ballot. These efforts were unsuccessful, and Brown instead used the initiative process to gather enough signatures to put his proposals on the November 2012 ballot. This year Republicans seemed to play a much smaller role in the budget process.

While not one Republican voted for the budget plan, no Republican votes are needed under our current system. So the budget passed on time, although it is not clear exactly what that budget looks like (many have complained that the process lacked transparency this year), but members of the minority party were essentially relegated to the role of observers.

It is worth asking whether the current, quick, but seemingly less transparent system is an improvement.

Jessica Levinson writes about the intersection of law and government every Monday. She is a Visiting Professor at Loyola Law School. Read more of her posts here.

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