California Legislature Set to Get a Big Raise; Do They Deserve It?

Given the dire straights our state’s budget is in and all the calls for declaring a fiscal state of emergency from those on the Right, every Legislator (Republican and Democrat) who accepts the pay increase is a hypocrite for taking it.

They have until 12/17 to declare what to do with the dough.

Capitol raises on tap amid deficit  By Jim Sanders – jsanders@sacbee.com
Published 12:00 am PST Monday, December 3, 2007 

California’s legislative salaries, already the nation’s highest, will rise to $116,208 today for all but a handful of lawmakers who have declined the hike while the state fights a massive budget shortfall.

Thirteen legislators – four Senate and nine Assembly members – have asked the state controller to kill their $3,110-a-year raise.

The other 106 lawmakers and 11 of 12 constitutional officers are taking the money, although they officially have until Dec. 17 to turn it down.

The sweeter salaries take effect at a time when the state projects a $10 billion budget deficit, but the pay hike was approved five months ago by an independent citizens commission created by voters through Proposition 112 in 1990.

Legislators and most of the state’s top elected officials, including Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, Treasurer Bill Lockyer, Controller John Chiang and Secretary of State Debra Bowen, will receive a 2.75 percent salary hike, slightly less than the state’s cost-of-living jump this year.

Attorney General Jerry Brown and Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell were singled out for a higher raise based on comparable pay in their fields. Their paychecks will jump 5 percent, or $8,776 per year – to $184,301.  Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s salary was set at $212,179, an increase of $5,679, but the figure is moot because the multimillionaire former actor and bodybuilding champion has never accepted state pay since taking office in November 2003. 

Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, a wealthy former Silicon Valley entrepreneur, said through a spokeswoman that he will donate his $4,543 salary increase to charity. 

State Sen. Abel Maldonado, a Santa Maria Republican who declined today’s pay hike for the third year in a row, said he can’t fault his colleagues but personally would not feel good about pocketing higher pay in a year of fiscal distress. 

“We’re in the red,” Maldonado said. “The governor sends out a memo that says everyone must (plan) for a 10 percent cut. And elected officials are going to take a raise?” 

California pays legislators at least $30,000 more than any other state, but numerous city or county managers, auditors or school superintendents receive far higher paychecks, according to data considered by the pay commission.  State Sen. Dave Cox, R-Fair Oaks, said he plays no part in setting his salary, and he accepts whatever decision is made by the seven-member pay commission of gubernatorial appointees. 

“Is it the right amount?” Cox said. “I guess that depends upon the individual. Do I think I’m worth the dollars that I’m paid? The answer is yes.”  Steven Maviglio, spokesman for Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, noted that legislators have little privacy, often are contacted at odd hours, and their $116,208 salary is nearly $50,000 less than pay for members of Congress. 

“If you compare it to the private sector, you’d be hard-pressed to find the 120 top officers of any corporation with a budget of $150 billion that would take the salary that legislators get and no pension or retirement benefits,” Maviglio said. 

Besides Maldonado, legislators rejecting today’s raise are Assembly Republicans Alan Nakanishi of Lodi, Ted Gaines of Roseville, Roger Niello of Fair Oaks and Martin Garrick of Solana Beach; Assembly Democrats Nicole Parra of Hanford, Mike Eng of Monterey Park, Ed Hernandez of West Covina, Hector De La Torre of South Gate and Anthony Portantino of La Cañada Flintridge; and Sens. Lou Correa, D-La Habra, Jeff Denham, R-Atwater, and Mark Wyland, R-Del Mar. 

Nakanishi’s decision means he will be termed out next year without ever having accepted an increase from his $99,000 freshman salary in 2002. By the time he leaves the Capitol, he will have foregone $43,186 in career pay.  “With my small voice, I’m just saying no,” Nakanishi said. “It’s difficult not to accept it, but my issues have always been fiscal restraint and small government.” 

Eight of the 13 legislators rejecting today’s pay increase are facing re-election. Last year, nine lawmakers who previously had rejected a nearly $12,000 pay hike quietly changed their minds once the public spotlight shifted or after elections in which they were running. 

California lawmakers received no pay increases from 1999 until 2005, but since then their pay has jumped by more than $17,000. 

Besides their $116,208 salary, legislators are entitled to roughly $34,000 annually in tax-free per diem for living expenses while in Sacramento.  Four local legislators decline per diem: Sen. Darrell Steinberg and Assemblyman Dave Jones, both of Sacramento; Assemblywoman Lois Wolk, D-Davis; and Niello, R-Fair Oaks. Cox accepts the per diem but said he donates it to charity, primarily for student scholarships. He is not required to disclose recipients and does not do so voluntarily. 

Despite today’s pay increase for legislators, many veteran staffers will continue to earn far more than their bosses, excluding per diem. Dan Eaton, Núñez’s chief of staff, tops the Capitol’s pay scale at $212,000 per year. 

Overall, the Legislature has more than 200 employees earning salaries exceeding $100,000 annually. 

State budget deficits do not necessarily affect the legislative budget, which rises automatically through a 1990 ballot measure that tied increases to inflation and population growth. 

Tim Hodson, a former Capitol staffer who now directs the Center for California Studies at California State University, Sacramento, said a salary of $116,208 is not excessive for setting public policy affecting 38 million people and one of the world’s largest economies. 

“For the degree of responsibility, for demands of the job, for dealing with a $100 billion general fund, and for the complexities of everything from reducing greenhouse gases to helping the local park district get a swimming pool … I don’t think that’s out of line at all,” Hodson said.

But David Kline, spokesman for the California Taxpayers’ Association, said legislators are public servants whose priority, during a budget crisis, should not be their own paycheck.

“They’re supposed to serve the public, and part of that is to accept a salary that doesn’t set taxpayers back too much,” he said. 

Added Maldonado, “If you’re doing it for the money, you should get out.”

  5 comments for “California Legislature Set to Get a Big Raise; Do They Deserve It?

  1. Northcountystorm
    December 3, 2007 at 5:48 pm

    Dan—Why not give props to Senator Correa for refusing to take the raise?

    The only other legislator who covers the OC who did the same was Wyland who really is a San Diego Republican who has a bit of south OC.

  2. Dan Chmielewski
    December 3, 2007 at 8:58 pm

    Give Lou props? Lou gives himself enough props that he doesn’t need mine.

  3. Northcountystorm
    December 4, 2007 at 1:53 am

    Yeah, kinda like Hillary. Sorry i suggested it.

  4. Dan Chmielewski
    December 4, 2007 at 9:14 am

    Apples and Oranges if I ever heard it.

  5. Jerry T
    December 6, 2007 at 1:39 am

    3,000 a year times( x) legislatures should not affect the state’s budget anyways

Comments are closed.