Like so many parts of California’s political tapestry, the threads of a state budget are stitched tightly together by the courts. Judges routinely settle fights over the annual spending plan.
But in one key case, settled 30 years ago this fall, the state’s highest court made such a significant change that it’s become easy for elected officials to quietly slip almost anything into the state budget.
“Governors have done it, and legislators have done it,” said Fred Silva, who was a top legislative budget staffer in the 1980s and now advises the bipartisan policy think tank California Forward.
The loophole opened by the 1987 state Supreme Court ruling was an attempt to honor two long-standing rules: Legislation is supposed to be limited to a single subject, and governors can only use their line-item veto when a bill is related to the budget. The lawsuit in question challenged former Gov. George Deukmejian’s attempt to veto an expansion of welfare assistance.
The result was that budgets have become increasingly spread out over a number of different documents — a main budget bill and then a series of bills linked to it, nicknamed “trailer bills,” generally organized by subject matter. Last week, 16 separate pieces of budget-related legislation were sent to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.
And that’s where the opening lies for injecting policy and political favors into the only duty that the Legislature has to fulfill every single year. “There is no standard for what constitutes a bill related to the budget,” Silva said.
It’s become known as the “trailer bill” bonanza.
Source: LA Times