Assembly Majority Leader Alberto Torrico (D-Newark) has introduced a good government reform package that would prohibit state legislators from accepting gifts from lobbyists, require them to forfeit per diem and disallow campaign fundraising every day the Legislature misses the June 15 budget deadline.
"The reputation of this institution has been badly damaged by the protracted budget impasse," Torrico said. "It's clear to me that the public's perception of legislators is extremely low. We need to restore the public's confidence and faith in its elected leaders, and these proposals will be a positive step toward achieving that goal."
Torrico's proposals are included in AB 1411 and AB 1412. They would:
• Prohibit a lobbyist, lobbying firm, or lobbyist employer from making any gift to a member of the Legislature.
• Prohibit, if the budget bill is not passed by the Legislature and sent to the Governor by June 15, payment to the legislators for living expenses and travel until the budget bill is passed and sent to the Governor. The funds that are not paid would be permanently forfeited.
• Prohibit legislators, after June 15, from engaging in campaign fund-raising activities until the budget bill is passed and sent to the Governor.
"I work with outstanding, dedicated public officials, but one of the lessons we should learn from this recent budget debacle is the public does not like the status quo," Torrico said. "They want to see changes and these are steps to enable us to change the public's perception of the Capitol's culture. The reforms I am proposing will give Californians a stronger sense that we are looking out for the public's interest."
Another reform that is not part of Torrico's package but is supported by him is lowering the supermajority threshold for adoption of the budget and tax increases. The supermajority requirement allows the minority party to hold the state budget hostage and force concessions on issues that don't belong in budget negotiations, Torrico said. He supports going to the ballot to lower the two-thirds threshold so California is more in line with the 47 other states that require a majority vote to pass the budget.
"The two-thirds requirement is very difficult to reach and increasingly makes the state look ungovernable or dysfunctional," Torrico said. "Then you add the campaign fundraising, the gifts and the per diem and the public has had enough. My reforms would be a positive step forward for California and hopefully voters will also have another chance to allow more majority rule on the state budget vote."