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Steinberg v. Chiang

California Court of Appeal, Third District

January 24, 2014

Darrell STEINBERG, as President pro Tempore, etc., et al., Plaintiffs and Respondents,
v.
John CHIANG, as State Controller, etc., Defendant and Appellant.

[As Modified on Denial of Rehearing February 20, 2014.]

APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Sacramento County, David I. Brown, Judge. Affirmed. (Super. Ct. No. 34-2012-00117584-CU-MC-GDS).

Page 339

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 340

COUNSEL

[167 Cal.Rptr.3d 251] Diane F. Boyer-Vine, Legislative Counsel, Jeffrey A. DeLand, Chief Deputy Legislative Counsel; Strumwasser & Woocher, Fredric D. Woocher and Michael J. Strumwasser for Plaintiffs and Respondents.

Kamala D. Harris, Attorney General, Douglas J. Woods, Assistant Attorney General, Mark R. Beckington and Ross C. Moody, Deputy Attorneys General, for Defendant and Appellant.

OPINION

BUTZ, J.

Page 341

Defendant John Chiang, in his official capacity as State Controller (Controller), appeals from a declaratory judgment in favor of plaintiffs Darrell Steinberg and John Pérez in their respective official capacities as President pro Tempore of the Senate and Speaker of the Assembly (collectively, the Legislature). The trial court concluded that the Legislature complies with the constitutional provision for a balanced budget when it enacts a budget bill in which its revenue estimates for the coming fiscal year exceed the total of existing appropriations for the fiscal year, new appropriations proposed in the budget bill for the fiscal year, and any transfer to the reserve fund. At that point, the Controller does not have the authority to make an independent assessment that the budget bill is not in fact balanced because it relies on revenues not yet authorized in existing law (or in so-called " trailer bills" ),[1] and on that basis withhold the salaries of legislators as a penalty for failing to enact a timely budget.

The Controller appeals, contending declaratory relief should have been denied because this action does not represent an actual controversy, or because his undisputed power to audit the lawfulness of any request for a warrant entitles him to determine whether a budget is in fact balanced regardless of any legislative declaration to that effect. Because the parties are in an ongoing relationship in which this existing dispute over the Controller's asserted [167 Cal.Rptr.3d 252] authority can arise again in the future, which presents a question of law regarding the interpretation of provisions of the state Constitution in the context of facts inherent in any future such dispute, we do not find a declaration of rights to be purely advisory. On the merits, we agree with the trial court that the Controller has failed to identify any basis for the exercise of a power to audit the accuracy of legislative estimates of revenues. We therefore shall affirm the judgment.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The pertinent facts are few. In 2011, the Legislature passed a budget bill on June 15 and sent it to the Governor for signature. The Legislature estimated revenues for the coming fiscal year of $87.8 billion dollars (rounded), and the appropriations in the budget bill (in combination with existing ...


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