For the third consecutive year, Gov. Jerry Brown, state legislators and other state elected officials will receive pay raises, beginning later this year.
Citing the post-recession boom in tax revenue, the panel that establishes state government politician salaries unanimously agreed to the 3 percent increases beginning Dec. 1. The California Citizens Compensation Commission on Monday also moved to restore previous cuts to the state’s contribution toward monthly health and dental premiums.
The raises will boost Brown’s annual salary by $5,324, to $182,791, while the pay for rank-and-file lawmakers will climb by $2,915 to $100,112, although that doesn’t include roughly $33,000 in annual tax-free per diem payments.
California elected officials’ salaries have marched upward as the state transitioned from years of discord over how to tackle massive budget deficits.
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Though the salaries for Brown, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Attorney General Kamala Harris and others are a small fraction of the budget, they have been an important symbol for the public since before Californians overwhelmingly voted to create the governor-appointed pay panel under Proposition 112 in 1990.
Despite having their pay cut during the recession, legislators here have remained the best compensated in the country. In approving a 2 percent salary boost last year, at least one commissioner noted that the driving force behind the government’s recovery was a voter-approved sales and income tax increase.
Chairman Tom Dalzell, a labor attorney appointed by Brown, said he believed the across-the board 3 percent raises were appropriate, particularly when compared with some of the salaries earned by elected leaders elsewhere. He also noted that many state workers will get 2.5 percent pay raises on July 1.
“In bad times, we needed to take into consideration that it is bad times. And while what we do has no effect whatsoever on the budget, there still is a leadership or symbolic importance,” he said. “When there are deficits, especially when state employees are asked to suffer, it’s important for there to be some recognition in the state officer salaries and benefits.”
Politicians during the economic downturn experienced reductions of almost 23 percent – a nearly $50,000 cutback for the governor and $26,000 for legislators. Dalzell noted that their pay remained nearly 20 percent behind pre-recession figures. Lawmakers also do not receive government-funded pensions.
Still, Dalzell said he understood that taking a more aggressive approach to restoring salaries could be difficult for a wary public to stomach.
“I think that to come in and say a 19.6 percent increase to get them back to 2007, that sounds like a nice idea, but that’s a huge number,” he said. “How many people in the private sector are getting 19 percent?”
Freshman Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, largely agreed with that rationale. McCarty, who said he previously earned about $60,000 as a member of the part-time Sacramento City Council, said he thought commissioners were acting responsibly by taking a relatively cautious approach.
“I think it sounds prudent, and I respect the decision,” he said, adding, “and if you ask my wife, she would say it’s prudent, too.”
Political pay has long been a flashpoint, and governments across the state have relied on an array of policies to deal with the issue. Some cities tie increases to judicial pay, while others leave it up to those who stand to benefit from the change. Still others have rules that prevent officials from voting on their own pay.
Lew Uhler, founder and president of the National Tax Limitation Committee, called any state raises “craziness” and unwarranted.
Uhler pointed to unemployment rates in the Central Valley, and a lack of emphasis on building dams and fixing roads and bridges. “We are rewarding those who are the architects of this crumbling edifice? That’s absurd,” he said.
Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, she he wasn’t concerned with Brown’s raise “as he is a CEO of a very large enterprise.” But, Coupal added, “Can’t say the same for legislators.”
Commissioner Anthony Barkett said it was time for the state panel to engage in a deeper discussion about what elected officials should earn. Barkett said Brown is underpaid when compared with the chief executives of other states. He recommended a range of $190,000 to $200,000.
“I think that is the fair and reasonable number considering we’re the most populous and economically powerful state – and I think it’s the most complex job,” he said. It’s “also half of what the (U.S.) president is paid.”
Commissioners agreed to return next year with a more holistic approach to the topic, including possibly abandoning the across-the-board approach and granting larger increases to statewide officers such as attorney general, who in some cases earns far less than county district attorneys.
State pay raise
What California officials will make after a 3 percent raise kicks in Dec. 1.
- Gov. Jerry Brown: $182,791
- Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom: $137,093
- Attorney General Kamala Harris: $158,774
- Controller Betty Yee: $146,232
- Treasurer John Chiang: $146,232
- Secretary of State Alex Padilla: $137,093
- Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson: $158,774
- Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones: $146,232
- Board of Equalization members: $137,093
- Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins: $115,129
- Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León: $115,129
- Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff: $115,129
- Assembly Republican Leader Kristin Olsen: $115,129
- Other lawmakers: $100,112