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California budgetCalifornia Legislature

Lawmakers pass budget bills in Sacramento, but they're almost completely blank

 (Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times)
(Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times)

The official record will show that the state Assembly passed all of the bills related to a new state budget on Thursday, almost a month before the constitutional deadline to do so.

But the record will also show those bills were devoid of any language related to the budget. They were, like ones passed last week by the Senate, empty legislative vessels.

As in, one-page bills with placeholder language: "This bill would express the intent of the Legislature to enact statutory changes relating to the Budget Act of 2017," reads one. "It is the intent of the Legislature to enact statutory changes relating to the Budget Act of 2017," reads another. That's all that is in Assembly Bill 137 and 39 other bills that will ultimately carry the contents of a fiscal plan negotiated between Democratic lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown.

The process of moving "shell" bills from one house to the other is a familiar one in Sacramento, as a conference committee of both houses ultimately reviews the deal once it's struck by leaders. But Republicans, as they have in earlier years, used Thursday's formal vote on the empty bills to complain about their lack of a seat at the negotiating table.

"This is not a good thing for transparency," said Assemblyman Jay Obernolte (R-Big Bear Lake) during floor debate. He said that even if the language was later changed, the work product of months of legislative budget subcommittees should have been included in the bills.

Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), the chairman of the Assembly's budget committee, rejected any accusation of keeping budget details away from public view. And he said critics are forgetting that the conference committee will vet all proposals once it convenes in early June.

"They clearly are averse to watching the hundreds of hours that we have" of testimony, Ting said.

Lawmakers must send a budget to Brown, who offered his revised plans last week, by June 15.

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