California panel orders 5 percent pay cut for lawmakers, governor, other officeholders

06/01/2012 12:00 AM

06/18/2013 3:31 PM

California lawmakers, who have seen their pay cut by 18 percent during the past three years, their fringe benefits slashed and their car-lease program eliminated, took yet another hit to their pocketbooks Thursday.

The California Citizens Compensation Commission ordered an across-the-board 5 percent salary reduction for Gov. Jerry Brown, legislators, and statewide officeholders from the controller to the state schools chief.

The panel's action slices $8,699 from the annual pay of Brown, $4,765 from legislators, $5,479 from legislative leaders, and amounts ranging from $7,556 to $6,524 from state constitutional officers.

"Everybody has to sacrifice," said Commissioner Chuck Murray, an appointee of former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger who pushed the 5 percent cut because it mirrors Brown's proposal to reduce paychecks for state workers this year.

Effective Dec. 3, the action will reduce pay to $165,288 for Brown, $90,526 for legislators, and $104,105 for the Assembly speaker and Senate president pro tem. Constitutional officers' salaries will range from $143,571 to $123,966.

Cumulatively, pay will be slashed by less than $700,000, representing a sliver of the $91.4 billion general fund budget Brown has proposed.

Murray suggested that the seven-member commission should consider rescinding Thursday's action if Brown's proposed pay cut for state workers dies before June 30.

The panel's 5-1 vote to cut elected officials' salaries sparked mixed reaction.

Brown did not object, saying that times are tough, the commission is independent and he would not second-guess it.

"I'd run for governor whether it was a paid job or not," he said. "I derive a lot of psychic income."

Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said their focus will continue to be on the economy, not pay, but both expressed concerns about Thursday's vote.

"We believe the commission's cut is punitive and ignores the size and complexity of the job . We also would hate to see a system where only the personally wealthy can serve," Pérez said in a prepared statement.

State workers saw their pay drop because of furloughs in recent years, but that reduction eventually ended while lawmakers' salary cuts remain unchanged, Pérez noted.

Speaking casually to reporters, Pérez said, "It really doesn't matter what members think. The commission does what the commission wants to do, regardless of merit, regardless of their charge and regardless of logic."

Steinberg said he wants Californians to know that lawmakers have taken deep pay cuts over the past few years and have been ineligible for state pensions since 1990.

"The people that I serve in this body are in the trenches working very hard every day on behalf of the people," Steinberg said.

Republican Assemblyman Dan Logue of Marysville said lawmakers deserve a pay cut.

"If our unemployment rate keeps going up, then our salary should come down," he said.

But Assemblywoman Norma Torres, D-Pomona, said the commission is playing politics with pay – and "for that reason, I think it's unfair."

"It's to the point that I was earning more money as a 911 dispatcher than I am here," Torres said.

Even with the new cut, California lawmakers will lead the nation in base pay, followed by Pennsylvania, $82,026, and New York, $79,500.

The two East Coast states arguably rank highest in total compensation, however, because legislators there can qualify for pension and retirement medical benefits while California's lawmakers cannot.

In addition, virtually every New York state senator and a majority of its Assembly members receive extra pay for serving in caucus or committee leadership posts.

Todd Dewett, associate professor of management at Wright State University in Ohio, said that the $90,526 approved for California lawmakers Thursday is neither alarmingly high nor low in comparison with major supervisory jobs in private industry.

The primary impact of Thursday's pay cut may be symbolic, sending a message that lawmakers are "sacrificing and in general being fiscally responsible with taxpayer dollars," Dewett said.

Jaime Regalado, emeritus professor of political science at California State University, Los Angeles, blasted the commission's action as punitive and draconian.

"The Legislature has become a whipping boy to virtually anybody and everybody, including the commission," Regalado said.

Four of the five commissioners who voted in favor of Thursday's pay cut, and the lone member who voted no, were appointees of Schwarzenegger, a Republican. Murray and commissioners Kathy Sands, John Stites, Scott Somers and Wilma Wallace voted to support the pay cut. Ruth Lopez Novodor was the lone "no" vote.

Commission Chairman Tom Dalzell, an appointee of Democrat Brown, argued against the pay cut. But the chairman votes only if the panel is deadlocked.

Dalzell said it "boggles my mind" that commissioners would cut a gubernatorial salary that is lower than that of a trial judge or a lawmaker salary that is on par with a skilled construction worker.

Dalzell said no action should have been taken while Brown's proposal to state workers is pending.

"I would not choose to do that, to be the tail wagging the dog," he said.

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