When voters approved Proposition 25 last June, it was widely seen as a present to Democrats — allowing them, for the first time in decades, to pass a budget with a simple-majority vote.
But that gift came with some major strings attached. Most talked-about was the fact that they still needed a two-thirds vote to approve new taxes. But there was also the little matter of legislators forfeiting their pay for each day they go past the June 15 budget deadline without passing a plan.
That part of the initiative played well with voters. The idea was to give legislators an incentive to get their work done on time — since pay will not be restored retroactively. Each day that passes is a day they won’t be paid.
Of course, there is the legal matter of when the budget is considered “passed”–when the governor signs it,or when the Legislature passes it, which happened in February, and what it would mean if it were opened back up again for taxes. In other words, the whole point may be moot, at least as far as this year is concerned, depending on a potential legal opinion.
But it appears unlikely Prop. 25 will do little to get Republican members to get behind a budget with taxes— because compared to their Democratic counterparts, they don’t need the money. The disparity could also shed some light on the differing beliefs and priorities of each party’s members.And this difference in wealth between the members elected by the two different parties has persisted for years, even as the faces themselves have changed in the term limits era.
Take the GOP Senate Caucus. Of its 15 members, five are millionaires, according to the Form 700 forms all elected officials file each year with the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC). Another four are probably millionaires, although that can’t be determined for certain because of the lack of detail allowed by the forms.
Two more members, definitely well-off, could be millionaires and another two would classify as clearly affluent, based on their listed assets. Only two list few assets, and only one of these has so few assets they would appear to have little to live on besides their salary.
Their Democratic counterparts, with 25 members, have only one confirmed millionaire — Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, who has a list of stock holdings that goes on for pages. Three more are probably millionaires, and another two may be. At the other end of the financial spectrum, the Senate Democrats have half-a-dozen members who appear to live largely if not completely on their salaries.
Over in the Assembly, the picture is largely the same. With only 28 seats, the Republicans field half-a-dozen confirmed millionaires. Another three or four members are well-off enough that they may be millionaires.
Only two members appears to live mainly off their salary — and while we won’t identify who they are, we’re pretty sure at least one of them is not a potential budget pickoff vote.
In other words, even though the Democrats only have to capture two Republican votes in each house, the prospect of not getting paid would appear likely to only bring a single vote in each house under the best of circumstances, from their perspective.
Contrast this with the 52 members of the Assembly Democratic Caucus, where at least 11 members are almost entirely dependent on salary and per diem for their livelihood. Again, there is a single confirmed millionaire —Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-San Ramon, who also holds a lot of stock.
Three more fall into the probable millionaire category. This group includes Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-South San Francisco, owner of a successful pool cleaning service, as well as Sen. Lowenthal’s ex-wife, Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, and Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, D-Davis, with stock and property.
But again, the real money is on the Republican side. Even in-between the highs and lows, rank-and-file Republican legislators appear to be, on average, a bit better off. This probably won’t come as a surprise to many. The widely-held belief that the GOP tends to draw its candidates from the pool of small-to-medium-sized business owners appears to be true, at least as far as the California Legislature is concerned. Democrats, by contrast, are more likely to come out of non-profits or academia — and also appear more likely to have spent long periods in public service jobs with moderate pay.
And the richest of the rich still appear to be Republicans. The poster child for legislative wealth the last few years was former Senator and Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, whose immigrant family grew a small empire of farm and farm-supply holdings. However, Maldonado has contested suggestions that his family is as wealthy as some say it is, and also said that he took a break from any involvement in the family businesses while he was in elected office.
Of current legislators, Sen. Mimi Walters, R-Laguna Niguel, appears to be one of the best-off. Her stock and property holdings cover 14 pages on her form. Others include the Berryhill brothers — Sen. Tom, R-Stanislaus, and Assemblyman Bill, R-Stockton. They’re both holders in Berryhill Family Vineyards, among other assets.