The upside to downer court ruling: John Chiang is screwed

Tuesday’s tentative court ruling that the Legislature had the sole authority to determine whether the budget it enacts is “balanced” is terrible news for California because it means Proposition 25 — the 2010 measure allowing state spending plans to pass on a simple majority of the Assembly and Senate — has no enforcement mechanism to prevent fake budgets from being treated as balanced. We’re likely to be on an even faster road to ruin as a result. But if you’re looking for a reason to smile, remember this: The guy who tried to rein in the Legislature and force it to produce more honest budgets is Controller John Chiang. So much for Chiang’s political future. The failure of his single major attempt to do right by California’s public — as opposed to its public employees — has a delicious double whammy effect. It’s now once again certain that the right (and taxpayers who follow the news) will never forgive his union duplicity. But unions will never forgive Chiang for his betrayal. Next stop for Chiang? May I be the first to quote the great Margita Thompson one-liner about Cruz Bustamante and suggest the union-defying Chiang has a future as a casino greeter.

Let us recount just a few of the ways Chiang was a stooge for unions or the status quo or special interests before his one attempt to stick up for the public. Here’s what I’ve written over the years:

From 2008:

Now it’s state Controller John Chiang’s turn to interfere with CalPERS on bogus grounds. Chiang, a member of the CalPERS board, this week won approval of a policy requiring the pension giant to pressure the companies it invests in to have diverse corporate boards of directors. The rationale: to help these firms “maintain a competitive edge” by utilizing a “wide range of talent and expertise.”

Certainly diverse leadership is a worthy goal, but having the nation’s largest pension fund bully well-run companies into adopting de facto racial quotas for their corporate boards is a grotesque abuse of power. For the state controller to do so on the grounds that he’s just worried about these companies’ fiscal health is absurd.

Our message to John Chiang: Stick to the green-eyeshade stuff. Leave the social engineering to the likes of Lloyd Levine.

From Jan. 2009:

Democratic officeholders know their political futures largely depend on keeping unions happy and behave accordingly.

Now the state budget crisis has yielded the starkest example of this subservience yet. Controller John Chiang, a Democrat who aspires to be governor, is refusing to enforce Schwarzenegger’s order that state workers take two unpaid furlough days a month beginning Feb. 1 to ensure the government has enough money to continue to perform its basic functions.

Why? Chiang says it is illegal. To the contrary, established case law gives government bodies considerable leeway during emergencies. The unions challenging the furlough plan are going to need to establish that such an emergency doesn’t exist. Good luck with that.

But questions about Chiang’s intercession go far beyond the flimsiness of his assertion that the furlough plan is illegal. Even if it were, when did voters pass a constitutional amendment giving the controller power to veto the governor’s decisions?

The answer, of course, is that they never did and never would. Voters know there can be only one governor at a time.

Considered in this context, Chiang’s actions border on a bureaucratic coup d’état.

Five months later, Chiang was at it again. Note the amazing comments of STEVE WESTLY in this excerpt. Even WESTLY knew Chiang was up to no good:

Chiang is outrageous, announcing that he is again going to defy the governor and the California Supreme Court by issuing full paychecks even if a budget doesn’t pass. How can this be justified? His spokesman says the 2009 Frawley ruling was stayed pending an ongoing appeal.

But the governor’s office says the controller is bound by the 2003 state high court ruling – and Chiang’s predecessor, also a Democrat, agreed. In June 2003, after initially striking a defiant tone and warning of computer problems, then-Controller Steve Westly said that if a 2003-04 budget was not adopted on time, he had no choice but to impose the pay cuts after the computer headaches had been resolved, probably in late August or September.

So why is the current controller playing king instead of obeying the law? Because powerful public employee unions can kill his political career if he crosses them. The Californians who don’t work for the state deserve far, far better from John Chiang.

I know Chiang has occasionally done the right thing on issues like local government pay transparency. But think about it this way: Chiang is supposed to be the state’s money man, and in a five-year period in which California’s budgets were so wretched that the credit agencies moved California’s rating to dead last, he barely did anything to take on the powers responsible.

Bill Lockyer’s reputation as a Dem maverick who occasionally speaks truth to power is overrated, especially given his attempts to discredit the scary Stanford studies of pension debt. But on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being a complete union tool who has never prompted even a raised eyebrow from Steve Maviglio and 10 being a Phil Gramm 1970s pseudo-Dem, I would put Lockyer at a 3.

On this 0 to 10 maverick scale, where does Chiang rate?


During a time of horrible fiscal distress, Californians deserved waaaaay better from their state controller.

3 thoughts on “The upside to downer court ruling: John Chiang is screwed

  1. California Republicans. So quick to declare an omerta against any Democrat.

    But so forgiving of Republican gangsters.

    Tanned, rested and ready to lose again.

    • Thanks to Richard Rider for pointing out my low opinion of Arnold.

      Steve, I’m a libertarian, not a Republican. Bush 43 was a terrible president, and Obama’s even worse. These aren’t the views of a Republican. They are the views of someone who is awake to what is going on in this country.

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