Senate Republicans Vote Against Democrat Ploy to prevent Budget Transparency

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Senate Republicans attempted to stop further corrosion of public transparency in the state budget process by voting against a series of 40 budget “spot bills” that Legislative Democrats passed today on a party-line vote.

The practice of passing budgetary spot bills was developed in recent years as a means of accommodating the so-called Big Five bi-partisan budget negotiations. The need for Big Five negotiations ended after voters approved Proposition 25 in November 2010, granting the Democrat controlled legislature majority-vote budget approval. But rather than curbing the practice of passing a handful of spot bills, this year Democrats have increased the total number of budget spot bills to 80 (40 in the Senate and 38 in the Assembly).

In addition to serving as last minute budget measures, it is anticipated that many of these spot bills will re-emerge in the future as a means to circumvent the existing two-thirds vote requirements for “Urgency” measures that have no true relationship to the budget.  Certainly, this is not what the people of California envisioned when they approved Proposition 25.

These spot bills are essentially empty legislative shells the Legislative Democrats will fill a few hours before they vote for a partisan budget without proper public scrutiny or examination through the traditional legislative process. Even members of the ruling party will find themselves at odds with their vote today as these empty measures will return for an up or down vote on surreptitious language that is contrary to their own values or the needs of their own constituents.

A prime example of the abuse of spot bills is evident from last’s year’s budget process, when AB 114, a roughly 100-page bill, was jammed through the legislature on June 28th and wasn’t published until the next morning.  That bill unrealistically required local school districts to assume the same level of funding as the previous year and severely limited district options for managing their own personnel,   without a single committee hearing or opportunity for public review.  Newspapers and education groups throughout the state denounced both the measure itself as well as the process by which it passed.

The process Legislative Democrats used today serves only one need: it enables the leaders of the legislative majority to make 11th-hour budget agreements with the governor, hurriedly jam the language for those agreements into these spot bills, and then pass them without opportunity for amendments or public review. During today’s floor debate, Republican Senators spoke out against this maneuver to limit transparency and public input in the state budget process (video below):

Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff, Diamond Bar,  says it’s not just Republicans, but more importantly the public, that’s being cut out of the state budget process.

“We’re spending too much money…        ….real budget, real discussion, real votes. (18 sec.)

Senator Huff says it’s wrong to craft new ways to prevent the public from overseeing and reviewing budget bills.

“Now we do all kinds of transparencies laws…        …can’t apply to ourselves here in the state capitol.”  (08 sec.)

Senate Budget Committee Vice Chairman Bill Emmerson (R-Hemet) Hemet, says today’s passage of the spot bills subverts the legislature’s own budget process.

“The Senate should develop and pass a complete state budget to the Assembly…    …if all we pass are empty spot bills.”   (16 sec.)

Senator Tom Harman (R-Huntington Beach) says the spot bill process has been used to deny public review of important legislation.

“This spot bill from last year…       … I’m telling you they didn’t.”  (13 sec.)

Senator Doug LaMalfa (R-Richvale)  says the state budget is too fundamentally important a process to hide from public view.

“How can we have a proclamation about Sunshine Week…    …last minute with 40 blank pieces of paper. (0:18)

Senator Jean Fuller (R-Bakersfield) says today’s passage of the spot bills undermines the constitutionally-established state budget process, and limits opportunities to debate the full impact of budget decisions.

“On-time budget means we have to start openly, now…   …issues need to be laid out. (: 13)

Senator Bob Dutton (R-Rancho Cucamonga) says using the spot bill process will cut off any opportunities for meaningful debate on the state budget.

“Months from now those bills are going to come back…    …until they’re actually acted on.” (:24)

Senator Sam Blakeslee (R- San Luis Obispo) says the legislature’s Democratic majority is abusing the simple-majority power voters granted the legislature when they passed Proposition 25.

“We respect Prop 25….     …this body is now traveling down.”  (25 sec.)

Senator Joel Anderson (R-El Cajon) questioned the need for sending empty spot bills to the Assembly.

“I just have a rhetorical question, that is….   …with information in them.” (0:13)

Senator Ted Gaines  (R-Roseville) says, rather than concentrating on the process, the legislature should be focusing on producing a fiscally sound budget.

“Clearly, we should get back to basics…    … a result of the vote of the people.” (:27)

This circumvents the appropriate process. The Senate should develop and pass a budget off the floor to the Assembly – the Assembly should do the same – and then a Budget Conference Committee should resolve the differences. Given the recent passage of Proposition 25 it seems the majority party in each legislative house should be able to pass its own state budget plan in order to properly establish the Budget Conference Committee.