Thursday, June 16, 2011

Curioser And Curiouser

Whatever else California may be, it is always interesting and often unpredictable. In the past couple days, two events occurred which are almost inexplicable by normal standards. But this is California, after all. First, the California legislature, for the first time in a quarter of a century, passed a budget by the statutory deadline, and it included massive cuts, with no new taxes.

Both houses of the state legislature are solidly controlled by the Democratic Party. Did they suddenly become efficient fiscal hawks while I wasn't looking? Nope. In the last general election, Californians passed another one of those pesky initiatives that get in the way of the long-range plans of the tax-and-spend Democrats. The initiative allowed for the passage of the state budget by a simple majority of both houses of the legislature, ostensibly to break the pattern of budgets being late year after year after year.

But the people giveth, and the people taketh away. They also required that any budget passed by the simple majority cannot include increases in income and certain business taxes. Oh, and if they don't pass the budget on time, the legislators receive no pay during the entire period from the expiration of the deadline to the time a budget actually gets passed. No back pay when it's passed, by the way. What an amazing incentive it was for Democrats who have been living off the public's money for decades. So, California has a budget, with no new taxes (yet).

In order for the legislature to pass new taxes (or in this case, extend the "temporary" tax increase from two years ago), the Democrats, including Governor Jerry Moonbeam Brown needed two Republican votes in the Assembly and two in the Senate. Brave Republicans have stood steadfast in their refusal to extend or write new taxes, despite tremendous pressure. So frustrated was Brown, that he is organizing another initiative for the next general election putting the issue of extending the temporary tax increases to the voters. Wouldn't hold my breath, Jerry.

Putting their paychecks ahead of their spendthrift principles, the Democrats cut serious money from nearly every facet of state government. That may very well come back to bite them because they are counting on the people to extend those temporary taxes to make up the billion-dollar-plus hole still left in the budget. Remember, I said they passed a budget--I didn't say they balanced one. Without that extension (or new and improved taxes), the budget imbalance will continue and thousands of state employees will lose their jobs or have their hours/pay severely reduced. Good for Republicans and conservatives, bad for Democrats. But they gave themselves a little hedge. They didn't cut employee pension benefits by a single dime, a major portion of the budget shortfall.

Second, there's a truly interesting (and funny) sideshow produced by the budget cuts. Remember that California Supreme Court that upheld Proposition 8, resulting in the federal cases challenging the law because it "discriminates" against gay marriage? One seat on that Court has changed hands (butts?)--that of the Chief Justice. The new Chief Justice is one Tani Cantil-Sakauye, appointed by "Republican" Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. She is the first California Supreme Court justice to have performed a gay marriage, so I guess we know which way the wind now blows on that court.

During her confirmation process, one Democratic Assemblyman remarked that it isn't enough to be "nice and pretty" for a position of such importance. That resulted in a Democratic state Senator making a formal demand for an apology, which the Assemblyman refused to do. Isn't this fun? But enough background. Cantil-Sakauye immediately reacted to the budget cuts by declaring that "the crippling cuts in the budget for the courts would be a blow against justice." Aw, hooey!

California courts are overstaffed, over-supervised and underworked--and that includes the Supreme Court. My home courts in Ventura County started the official day at 8:30 AM and finished at 5:00 PM, unless there was still unfinished business. I once had to stick around until 7:30 PM the day before Thanksgiving because the judge insisted that the prosecution finish its case-in-chief before we could go home. But those courts are an extreme rarity. In Los Angeles, San Francisco, Alameda and Orange Counties, the court day often started at 10 AM or so (depending on the mood of the judge), went to 4:30 PM (at the latest), and then the day was over even if a lawyer had to be stopped in mid-sentence. Actual court time was often three or four days a week, not the appropriate five. Lunches, breaks and continuances without good cause were extensive.

Again, outside of Ventura County, those courts had two or three clerks roaming around while Ventura made do with one per courtroom. Proceedings were often delayed because the court stenographer neglected to come back from lunch on time. There were often two bailiffs (marshals) in civil courts, to protect the judge, jury and public from angry litigants I suppose. My former colleagues (and a few of my law students now practicing) tell me that nothing has changed. One day's visit to the courts in Kern County (where my younger daughter works) tells me that Kern County is no exception.

I would tell the Chief that she needs to get a reality-check, but I'm afraid I'd be forced to call her by name, and I don't have a clue how to pronounce it. At least I could pronounce the name of her predecessor, Chief Justice Ronald George. Most of all, I would tell her that she needs to tighten her belt and take her medicine right along with the rest of us. Duplication, triplicaton, quadruplication of court tasks need to be eliminated just as they will be in all other sectors. Justice unnecessarily dragged-out is justice that is far too costly.

28 comments:

Tennessee Jed said...

Hawk - that is a fascinating post. It may be a sign of the times when this can happen in California. As you point out, there are some smoke and mirrors involved, but, hey, just putting together the provisions forcing an on time buget vote is a step in the right direction.

Jocelyn said...

Lawhawk - I didn't even see the news that California finally passed a budget on time, how exciting! I still feel like when I browse through headlines it's all "Weinergate". It is sad that they did not address the pension problem as I'm sure that's one of our core money problems. And if Gov. Brown thinks we're going to vote for tax increases, he's not thinking straight, but I'm sure we all knew that anyway.

And I'm not surprised the new judge saying that the cuts will prevent justice being done, I think that's true of any state/federally funded group. Get in line with the rest of us who leave within our means.

Thanks for the article!

Joel Farnham said...

Wow. LawHawk,

Alice in Wonderland time. Budget on time? No new taxes? And had cuts? Cool.

When do the Democrats start calling the people who pay taxes greedy and mean? I bet Jerry is crapping cactus right now.

As many problems that the initiatives process supposedly causes, aren't you glad it is still there? :-)

LawHawkRFD said...

Tennessee: Normally the smoke comes from the legislators smoking too much weed and there generally aren't any mirrors because California Democrats don't cast an image in mirrors. LOL

Frankly, when I first saw the news, I was sure they had it wrong. A California budget--on time--with cuts? But it's true. The budget certainly does have some tricks to fool the eye, but even at that, it's still a bit of a shock.

Tehachapi Tom said...

Hawk
I missed the budget getting passed, thanks for the posting. Your better than the MSM that is available here in the Mountains. All printed news would arrive one or two days after the fact so I don't do that any more. The radio news probably had it on and I must have missed it, Thanks.
Any way I'm having so much fun with an abuse of authority issue here in tiny town that State stuff will have to wait to get caught up on.

LawHawkRFD said...

Jocelyn: I think the Democrats have misjudged the California voters. It's possible that the November election was the high-water mark for them, and they realized that had to do something--anything--to look like they actually cared that the ship was sinking. So they did their thing, and expect us to fix the rest of the problem by voting those new taxes and/or an extension of the "temporary" increase. Not gonna happen.

The independent citizen commission on redistricting finished its preliminary re-mapping, and the LA Times, SF Chronicle, Sacramento Bee among others quickly said that it probably means two more Democratic seats in Congress with two Republican seats lost. That is pure whistling in the dark. Though it won't mean big Republican gains, the way I see that map, Republicans could pick up as many as four former Democratic seats. Maybe the state legislators read the news the same way I did, and realized this budget could be their swan song.

Jerry Brown should use his 70s campaign slogan on Justice Unpronounceable: "Lower your expectations."

Glad I made you feel just a little better.

LawHawkRFD said...

Joel: We've gotten some pretty strange legislation coming out of the initiative and referendum process. But this time, it actually worked.

T-Rav said...

LawHawk, I still think you need to continue plans for forming the Free State of Caliente. This sounds like a mixed bag at best, and it being California, I would expect even the best parts to get screwed up in short order.

LawHawkRFD said...

Tehachapi Tom: Glad to be of service. I think a lot of Californians are going to wake up this morning, open their Times or Chronicle, and think they're misunderstanding the headlines. An on-time California budget is like a close encounter of the third kind. Rare, and almost impossible to believe.

LawHawkRFD said...

T-Rav: Aw, c'mon. Please give me a day at least to enjoy this miracle. The afterglow should wear off by tomorrow, but just for today, I want to savor it. Then it's back to "Caliente, Here I Come" and "I Wish They All Could Be Caliente Girls."

AndrewPrice said...

Wow, California passes a budget on time. . . Earth to explode. . . film at 11!

On courts, they are getting really opulent the country over. I've seen some courthouse that were so over-staffed and so over-paid and so over-benefited that they looked more like luxury clubs than courthouses.

LL said...

Law Hawk - as a 21 year veteran of the Orange County DA's office, I can tell you that the workday depends on the judge. I know of several that hold court well into the evening, depending on the case. Judges tend run their courts according to the dictates of their consciences.

California is a train wreck for the nation because it so large economically. Yes, I know that a lot of people who live elsewhere enjoy bashing the state (and it deserves it). The liberal entitlement culture has to be curbed and it may come to pass that they will be forced to change to some small extent because of economics.

LawHawkRFD said...

Andrew: Ya know, it's kinda funny when you think about it. Even though California has been late passing a budget almost every year since 1986, at least it would finally pass one within the same year. That's more than we can say for the federal government.

LawHawkRFD said...

LL: I was aiming my criticism at the courts. My dealings with the Orange County DA's office were always highly professional. In fact, we were on the same page about the laziness of several of the judges and the bureaucratic hoops we had to go through before we could even get to the legal issues. Too bad I didn't stick around longer in Southern California and you and I might have met. My last case in Orange County was back in 1987.

Funny story. Those of us who based our practices in Ventura County tended to be a bit snobbish about it. I had a criminal matter in the Martinez (Alameda County) court which involved the son of one of my church members who had moved north. I'd fly up for pretrial motions and conferences, and I'd hear the judge in her chambers loudly instructing her secretary to "send in the LA lawyer." Each time, I'd politely remind her that I was "the Ventura County lawyer." At the last conference, she finally corrected herself and told the secretary to "send in the Orange County attorney." I told her she still had it wrong, but at least it was an improvement.

LawHawkRFD said...

"Oh, it's going to be bye-bye for Tony Weiner. That is what we're truly gonna see--ee--ee." Sorry, I couldn't help myself. Word is that flasher Congress Critter Anthony Weiner is going to resign in about two hours. 'Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished. Guess the two-day rehab for a lifelong perversion didn't stick.

Now, back to California. It's rumored that Anthony Weiner and former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger will form a sex-addicts group. OK, I'll stop now.

T-Rav said...

LawHawk, I love it. If I were a cruder person, I would be making some disreputable jokes about the DisHonorable Congressman right now. Oh well, I'm sure he'll move to San Fran and find acceptance.

LawHawkRFD said...

T-Rav: I guess running for Mayor of New York is out of the question now, so running for Mayor of San Francisco makes perfect sense. Weiner would be really big in the Castro District. Damn, I promised I'd stop that.

T-Rav said...

LawHawk, when you say "Weiner would be really big in the Castro District," you mean 'big' as in popular, right? Sorry, I couldn't help it!

LawHawkRFD said...

T-Rav: Oh, did I make a double entendre? How did that happen? LOL

T-Rav said...

LawHawk, I could say more along those lines, but there might be kids reading.

On the original topic, it is rather sad, now that you mention it, that California has a better record of passing budgets than the U.S. Congress. Can there be any clearer proof of how screwed we are?

LawHawkRFD said...

UPDATE: And now you will know why I used the Alice in Wonderland reference in the title of this article. A few minutes ago, the office of the governor released a videotaped statement from Moonbeam Brown that he is vetoing the budget. No skin off his nose--he continues to get paid even if the legislators don't.

Brown says he "reluctantly" vetoed the budget because "California is facing a fiscal crisis and very strong medicine must be taken because I don't want to see more billions of borrowing, legal maneuvers that are questionable, and a budget that won't stand the test of time." TRANSLATION: Pass my tax extension/increase or else.

Only time will tell how the newly-impoverished legislators will react, but as I said earlier, it's always interesting in California.

LawHawkRFD said...

T-Rav: Well, you nailed that one. As California goes, so goes the nation. BUT------as I mentioned in the update above, we don't have a budget after all. California, there you go.

Jocelyn said...

LawHawk - Well there you go. And here I was all excited. Way to have our state let us down, AGAIN!

Anonymous said...

Lawhawk, you're just having WAY too much fun at poor Weiner's expense (NOT)! I love it!

TJ

LawHawkRFD said...

Jocelyn: Please don't shoot the messenger. I must admit that Brown's veto doesn't come as any big surprise to me. He has to repay his debt to the public employees unions, and he can't do that by protecting current retirement benefits alone. He owes them protecting future public hiring and pensions, and he can only do that by the veto and hopes that the California voters will be bamboozled into viewing the crisis as one that can only be solved by higher taxes.

LawHawkRFD said...

TJ: I fear I'm going to have to spend an extra hour or two at church this Sunday. I think schadenfreude is one of the seven deadly sins, but I'll have to research it. LOL

Patti said...

law: i bet you could write a series of books with the things you have seen. while the budget was passed, you just know the real shenanigans will be starting. it'll be for the children, of course. the poor children who are now being forced to drink white milk instead of chocolate. RACISTS!

LawHawkRFD said...

The more things change, the more the stay the same. Brown vetoes the budget, and the State Controller says that the vetoed budget was "feasible," so the legislators get paid as if there were a budget. To his semi-credit, Controller John Chiang said: “I remain resolute in my commitment to enforcing the public’s will to permanently withhold legislative pay for every day a balanced budget is not passed after yesterday’s deadline." Maybe, but to me it sounds a lot like O J Simpson telling us he would devote the rest of his life to finding his wife's killer.

Aren't Democrats always telling us about how they believe in both the letter and the spirit of the law? Clearly, the voters of California intended to force legislators to do their duty and pass timely budgets, or get their pay cut off. But the Democrats have now just performed another end run around the California constitution and state statute. And since we already know what the State Supreme Court Chief Justice thinks about this, the courts won't be any help. Democrats 1, People 0.

Post a Comment