To trigger, or not to trigger? That was the question for California Treasurer Bill Lockyer and finance director Michael Genest at an unusual hearing Tuesday.

The oddball hearing was set up as part of the new state budget adopted in February to close a $40-billion-plus budget gap.

The budget included a provision that calls for about $2.8 billion in cuts and tax increases to “trigger off,” or disappear, if the state receives $10 billion in federal stimulus funds that can be used to offset expenditures that would otherwise be made from the state’s general fund.

Genest and Lockyer held a hearing Tuesday to get public input on the process. It drew a large crowd, largely of advocates for social programs that would be spared cuts if the trigger is pulled.

As the meeting commenced, Lockyer tried to downplay their expectations.

“It may be helpful for you to know this is not a policy hearing,” he said. “Our job is ministerial. The Legislature wrote the statute. We’re trying to implement it.”

According to Lockyer spokesman Tom Dresslar, if the two officials do not agree the trigger should be pulled, the budget plan enacted in February will remain intact, and the spending cuts and tax increase will be fully implemented.

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