SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - California's controller improperly suspended the pay of lawmakers last year after deciding a budget they approved was not balanced, a state judge tentatively ruled on Tuesday.
State Controller John Chiang in June 2011 blocked paychecks for lawmakers after fellow Democrats who control the legislature approved a state budget plan that he said did not "add up."
Chiang said the move was in line with a law approved by voters in 2010 to withhold lawmakers' pay if they miss the June 15 budget deadline, which has been routine in California.
The leaders of the state Senate and Assembly sued Chiang in January, alleging he was "unlawfully insinuating" himself in budget deliberations.
Sacramento County Superior Court Judge David Brown agreed, noting Chiang "essentially engaged in a function delegated exclusively to the Legislature."
"Here, there is no question that the Legislature has the fundamental authority with respect to the budget," Brown said, adding Chiang's office is not authorized to judge state budgets.
Chiang in a statement said he would review his legal options, adding that "The court's tentative ruling flies in the face of the voters' will by allowing legislators to keep their salaries flowing by simply slapping the title 'budget act' on a sheet of paper by June 15."
(Reporting By Jim Christie; Editing by Bernard Orr)