The State Worker

July 19, 2012

California Senate salary freeze comes after raises

After giving out hundreds of pay raises in the past year, the Senate announced plans for a crackdown Wednesday – a one-year pay freeze.

The State Worker

Jon Ortiz chronicles civil-service life for California state workers

After giving out hundreds of pay raises in the past year, the Senate announced plans for a crackdown Wednesday – a one-year pay freeze.

The Senate belt-tightening pales in comparison to that of most other state workers, however, who saw their pay cut 5 percent recently through a once-monthly furlough day.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg characterized his chamber's pay-freeze plan as the latest in a series of money-saving moves during the state's long budget crisis.

"I'm grateful to Senate employees for their sacrifices while the economy recovers from this hard-hitting global economic downturn," the Sacramento Democrat said.

But Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, dismissed the plan as "window dressing" and "posturing" aimed at winning voter support for a tax increase in November.

"To announce a pay freeze after all the raises have been given is like closing the vault door after the bank has been robbed," Coupal said.

Any money saved by a pay freeze would be "budget dust," and the public will not see the move as consequential, Coupal said.

"I think the public is already so cynical and angry that there's not enough lipstick in the world to make this pig look good," he said.

Steinberg plans to ask the Senate Rules Committee to approve the freeze at its next meeting, Aug. 1, said Rhys Williams, a Steinberg spokesman. Steinberg chairs the Rules Committee, so approval is expected to be routine.

The freeze would take effect immediately after the committee's vote. It would bar Senate merit increases and step increases, but not promotions.

Assembly administrator Jon Waldie said that his chamber has no plans to announce a pay freeze, but for the past several years, it has transferred 15 percent of its annual budget to other state agencies. This year, $22 million will be sent, Waldie said.

The Senate was not alone in awarding merit increases to legislative employees this year. The Assembly has done so, too, with hundreds of employees seeing salary hikes ranging from 3.6 percent to 5 percent. Employees were eligible if they had not received a raise in three years.

The total number of Assembly aides who saw their pay rise in the past year was not immediately available Wednesday.

Both legislative houses loosened their purse strings for employee pay the past year after long periods of salary drought. The Senate froze pay for four years, from 2007 to 2011, before allowing merit increases of up to 5 percent for workers whose performance was reviewed on the month of their birthday.

Merit raises totaled about $1.5 million the past year, with 58 percent of Senate employees receiving a raise, Williams said. That would mean roughly 560 of the Senate's 964 staff members received a raise.

The Senate has not posted updated employee salary figures on its website since January, making it impossible for the public to determine who has received a raise this year.

Despite the Senate's 5 percent cap on merit increases the past year, some employees received higher percentage hikes because they were promoted or switched job classifications in years past without a salary increase at that time, Williams said.

Asked whether a Senate pay freeze is adequate in light of the 5 percent pay cut imposed on most other state workers, Williams noted that other state agencies have continued to offer step increases while the Senate does not.

Other Senate cost-cutting moves in recent years have included a temporary hiring freeze a couple of years ago – though numerous employees were hired shortly before it was launched – and a one-day-per-month furlough for employees with salaries above $50,000 in 2009-10.

The Senate's total budget dropped in 2010-11 from $111.3 million to $109.3 million. It has remained at that level since then.

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