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It can’t hurt

Proposition 1F is dumb but relatively harmless.

At first glance, it looks like one of those familiar proposals to punish legislators for their irresponsible failure -- year after year -- to reach agreement on a state budget and offer them incentives to do so quickly and on time. But it’s not.

There are bills that would do such things. One proposed measure, for instance, would dock legislators’ pay for every day a budget is not in place after the legal deadline. Another would bar legislators from accepting campaign contributions until they pass a budget. Whatever you may think of those proposals, you can see that they might pressure legislators to overcome partisan gridlock and agree to a budget deal more quickly.

But Proposition 1F does something else. If passed, it would bar members of the Legislature and statewide officials from receiving pay raises when the state is experiencing a budget shortfall.

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It’s hard to see how this “makes legislators accountable,” as its chief proponent, Sen. Abel Maldonado (R-Santa Maria), says it would. For one thing, it doesn’t dock pay; it merely prohibits a pay raise. That’s not much of an incentive, especially because there’s nothing to stop the commission that sets pay levels from enacting the same raise the following year (or a larger one, for that matter, to make up for the missed months).

What’s more, Proposition 1F’s provisions don’t kick in when the Legislature has failed to reach a budget, but when the state is experiencing a shortfall. Shortfalls can occur for many reasons that have nothing to do with legislators -- such as a global economic downturn that reduces tax revenues. So it’s not immediately clear why legislators should be punished for them.

There’s only one real argument for this proposal, and that is that it’s unseemly for elected officials to take raises at a time when they might have to increase taxes or cut programs that help schools or the arts or the mentally ill.

This is more of a symbolic argument than a substantive one, because prohibiting pay raises doesn’t save the state much money. The Legislative Analyst’s Office calculates that if all the legislators and officials covered under Proposition 1F were denied a 3% raise, it would save the state less than $500,000 -- a pretty insignificant sum in a budget that is well over $100 billion. Why so little? Legislators, unlike investment bankers, don’t earn millions of dollars each year.

Still, the Senate, the Assembly and the governor agreed to this compromise; it’s part of the overall budget deal backed by this page; it doesn’t seem harmful, though it seems unlikely to help much either. It might even assuage some voter anger. In the interest of statewide comity and compromise, therefore, The Times endorses Proposition 1F.


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