Top-paid California legislative employees get pay raises

Published: Friday, Jul. 20, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 3A
Last Modified: Sunday, Jul. 22, 2012 - 12:24 pm

As California lawmakers slashed funding for social services and state workers this spring, some of the Legislature's top-paid staff saw the size of their own salaries grow.

A review of newly released payroll records found that at least 93 California legislative employees making more than $100,000 received raises this year. More than 900 employees at all pay levels have received raises.

Six-figure wage earners represent 14 percent of the Legislature's 2,220 employees, but the number making more than $100,000 has increased slightly to more than 300.

Officials from both houses are quick to point out that overall spending by the Legislature has decreased and that many staff members who were eligible for the merit raises that started in 2011 had gone years without a pay bump.

President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg announced plans this week to again take merit raises off the table for upper chamber employees, proposing a one-year salary freeze for staff in light of the state's ongoing budget crunch.

Jessica Levinson, an associate professor at Loyola Law School, said that while the increases may be earned or overdue, the use of taxpayer dollars to pad already high salaries won't sit well with voters who are struggling to find a job or make ends meet.

"Voters feel like 'the money in my wallet is going into their wallets and they're making more than I am,' " Levinson said. "There's something about that that doesn't feel fair or good or even permissible in a fiscal crisis."

Forty-seven Senate employees with six-figure salaries received raises between Jan. 31 and June 30 of this year. Six additional employees in that pay range received raises but were promoted or assigned to a new job. Records show that at least 189 employees in the upper house now make six-figure salaries, a net increase of 15 since Jan. 31.

The Senate salary hikes were part of a yearlong policy that resulted in merit raises of up to 5 percent for roughly 560 of the upper house's 964 staff members. More than a dozen making more than $100,000 have already seen their salaries rise due to the merit raises, which Steinberg spokesman Rhys Williams said totaled about $1.5 million in the past year.

Some employees received larger percentage hikes because they switched job classifications, recently or in years past, without a pay increase at the time, Williams said Wednesday.

In the Assembly, 46 employees with six-figure salaries received pay increases since Dec. 1 under a directive by Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez permitting raises ranging from 3.6 percent to 5 percent for aides whose pay had not risen in three years or more. There have been about 365 raises and about 110 job reclassifications among the Assembly's roughly 1,300 employees.

The lower house now has 130 employees making $100,000 or more – an increase of 10 since Dec. 1, records show.

The group of employees receiving a raise included the Legislature's second-highest-paid employee. Chris Woods, the Assembly's chief consultant on budget issues, saw his salary climb from $186,756 to $193,476, records show. The two highest-paid Senate employees to receive a raise were Deputy Secretary of Human Resources Enedina Hidalgo and David Wilkening, an executive staff director for the Senate Office of Floor Analyses. Both saw their pay jump from $165,168 to $177,228 a year.

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