California Assembly

The California Assembly floor in a 2008 photo. Lawmakers passed a series of blank budget bills on Monday. (Los Angeles Times / May 12, 2008)

One day before Gov. Jerry Brown is scheduled to release his updated spending plan, Democrats in the Legislature began lining up empty bills to streamline the budget process.

The annual ritual is a reliable source of controversy in the Capitol, with Republicans accusing Democrats of preventing a transparent review of the budget.

The Senate approved 37 pieces of blank legislation, and the Assembly approved 34. The votes broke down along party lines.

The bills serve as placeholders. As negotiations continue over the next month and a half, they will be filled in with specific details on the budget, then quickly passed in order to meet deadlines for finalizing the state's spending plan.

Senate Republican leader Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar) called the action a “charade” and a “sham.” Assemblyman Jeff Gorell (R-Camarillo) said approving the blank bills is equivalent to “enabling a broken system.” And Assemblyman Mike Morrell (R-Rancho Cucamonga) said a businessman operating the same way would “go to prison.”

Democrats said the budget will still be thoroughly vetted in dozens of committee hearings. They also said it was far from the first time that blank bills were used during the budget process.

“We have followed this practice for many, many, many decades,” said Senate Budget Chairman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco).

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Twitter: @chrismegerian