June 20, 2013

California lawmakers, state officials to receive 5 percent pay hikes

Gov. Jerry Brown received an $8,699 pay increase Wednesday.

Gov. Jerry Brown received an $8,699 pay increase Wednesday.

Legislators will see their annual pay jump by $4,765, while salary hikes for other state officeholders will range from $7,556 for attorney general to $6,525 for secretary of state.

The California Citizens Compensation Commission voted 5-1 to restore a 5 percent pay cut imposed on the state's 120 lawmakers and 12 constitutional officers during last year's budget crisis.

Officeholders will begin receiving the higher pay in December.

Salaries will remain far below their peak, however, because an 18 percent pay cut imposed in 2009 was not rescinded Wednesday.

Former legislator Gary Hart, a Santa Barbara Democrat who was the lone member of the public to speak at the commission meeting, urged that pay be hiked to help recruit and retain future legislators.

Higher salaries on local city councils or boards of supervisors can be a powerful draw for incumbent lawmakers, Hart noted.

"I worry that current pay will not attract as many strong candidates as we need" for the Legislature, Hart said.

But Thad Kousser, a political science professor at the University of California, San Diego, said the panel's vote may not play well with constituents.

"With everyone doing better in the economy and the state expanding rather than cutting government, it's certainly a much better time for a pay raise than we've seen," Kousser said.

"But the public never likes to see legislators getting more money – especially two weeks after an FBI raid at the Capitol," he said, referring to agents' search of two offices used by Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello.

Brown and legislative leaders, in keeping with past practice, did not comment Wednesday on salary-setting by an independent commission.

The pay panel, seven gubernatorial appointees, also rescinded roughly half of an 18- to 20-percent reduction made during the recession to officeholders' health, dental and vision benefits.

Wednesday's actions involve less than a million dollars a year – roughly $650,000 in officeholder pay and an estimated $200,000 to $250,000 in health, dental and vision benefits.

The commission did not address two other cuts it made in recent years – eliminating a lease-car program for lawmakers and slashing their per diem for living expenses from $173 to $142.

Commission Chairman Tom Dalzell said that data supported full restoration of the 22 percent in officeholder salary cuts since 2009.

A key argument made when commissioners cut pay in years past was that California was in desperate fiscal shape and that leaders needed to tighten their own belts as state workers were furloughed.

"That no longer exists," Dalzell said.

The commission's 2012 survey of base legislative salary found no state paying its legislators more than California.

But Dalzell pointed to statistics by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office that found California pays its legislators far less than New York does, when pensions and other stipends are considered. California lawmakers who took office after 1990 receive no pensions.

In arguing for a legislative pay hike, Dalzell noted that raising salaries would not impact the state budget.

The Legislature would foot the bill from its own annual allotment, not from funds used for other public services, he said.

Lawmakers "have to live within their means, so they'd make adjustments on committee staff or other things," Dalzell said.

He ultimately opted to propose only a 5 percent pay restoration after several commissioners expressed concern about hiking pay so soon after a recession, when Brown is urging across-the-board caution in spending.

Dalzell did not cast a vote, honoring his longtime position that a chairman should participate only if the panel is deadlocked.

Commissioner John Stites cast the lone vote against hiking pay. "I disagree with the premise that the state is in firm economic condition now," Stites said. "Until we see a substantial increase in revenue, we should keep (pay) as it is."

Commission member Wilma Wallace said that when officeholder pay was cut 5 percent last year, the panel sent a message that it would consider restoration if the state's economy stabilized.

"And we did," she said.

The newly passed state budget on Brown's desk promises the Legislature $12 million in additional funds next year, some of which could be used to bankroll the pay hike.

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

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