Panel to consider restoring pay cuts for state's top elected officials

06/19/2013 12:00 AM

06/19/2013 11:08 PM

After passage of a budget with a $12 million windfall for the Legislature and a likely pay increase for state workers, a commission today will consider whether to restore salary cuts for California's top elected officials.

Tom Dalzell, chairman of the California Citizens Compensation Commission, said he personally has concluded that full restoration of pay cuts is justified for the state's 120 legislators and 12 constitutional officers, including Gov. Jerry Brown.

But Dalzell said he has not decided how to vote during today's meeting of the seven-member panel in Sacramento. One consideration is whether restoration is appropriate so soon after the budget crisis, he said.

Rather than push a specific proposal, Dalzell said he'll simply ask commissioners whether they want to restore all, some or none of the deep pay cuts made since 2009.

"I firmly believe the data suggests restoration," Dalzell said. "I don't know what my policy position is – I want to listen to (commissioners) before I decide, in the end, what I think."

The governor's salary has dropped from $212,179 to $165,288 in the past four years. Lawmakers have seen their pay fall from $116,208 to $90,526, their benefits reduced, and their lease-car program eliminated during the same period.

Cuts were made during a recession that had state government drowning in red ink. Revenue has steadied since then, voters have approved billions in temporary tax hikes, and the state's largest public employee union has negotiated a 4.5 percent raise that will kick in by mid-2015.

California's state officeholder salaries are high compared with those in other states, but they pale in comparison to pay for many city managers, district attorneys and other key local government officials, according to surveys by the commission.

To contradict the notion that pay for California legislators ranks first nationwide, administrators of the Senate and Assembly produced statistics last month showing that New York pays far more in total compensation, partly because California offers no pension to legislators first elected before 1990.

"We thought it would be helpful for you to have the more up-to-date information," read the letter from administrators of the Assembly and Senate.

"The misconception is still prevalent that California's legislators are the highest compensated state legislators in the country."

To restore pay cuts for the 80 Assembly and 40 Senate officeholders, the Legislature could use some of the windfall awaiting each house in the newly passed budget on Brown's desk. The Senate stands to receive an extra $6.3 million, the Assembly $5.7 million.

Dalzell said he will not seek to restore the state's program of purchasing lease cars for lawmakers or increasing legislative per diem – slashed from $173 to $142 – because he believes the board acted beyond its legal authority in cutting those benefits in 2009.

"I would propose letting the Legislature handle its affairs," he said.

Dalzell said he has no idea how the commission will vote today. He is one of four Brown appointees. Three others were appointed by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Two of Schwarzenegger's appointees, Charles Murray and John Stites, said they do not support increasing elected officials' pay.

"Restoration? There's no such thing as a restoration – it's a raise," Stites said. "There are millions of people out there in the private sector, and even in the public sector, who have suffered through cuts. Nobody's talking to them about restoration.

Stites plans to vote today despite controversy over his residency. He has conceded that his primary residence is in Henderson, Nev., though he also owns a house in Los Angeles County.

Dalzell said he will raise the residency issue today but let Stites decide for himself whether to stay for a vote.

Responded Stites: "My conscience is telling me that I'm staying."

Murray said he suspects that a majority of the panel will vote for total restoration of pay cuts.

"I think, if I was to guess, they'll vote along party lines – Brown appointees will vote for total restoration and Schwarzenegger appointees will vote for status quo," Murray said.

Commissioner Scott Somers, a Schwarzenegger appointee, said he is "keeping his options open."

Nancy Miller and Wilma Wallace, two Brown appointees, also were noncommittal.

"I'm open at this point – I don't have a final point of view," Wallace said.

The panel's newest appointee, Anthony Barkett, chosen by Brown last month, could not be reached for comment.

Call Jim Sanders, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5538. Follow him on Twitter @jwsanders55.

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