Capitol Alert

California panel lifts pay 4 percent for Jerry Brown, lawmakers

Gov. Jerry Brown speaks at the 91st Annual Sacramento Host Breakfast at the Sacramento Convention Center on May 18, 2016.
Gov. Jerry Brown speaks at the 91st Annual Sacramento Host Breakfast at the Sacramento Convention Center on May 18, 2016.

Statewide elected officials and the Legislature will get a 4 percent raise starting in December, the California Citizens Compensation Commission voted Wednesday.

The raise, on top of a 3 percent increase that took effect last December, will boost Gov. Jerry Brown’s annual salary from $182,791 to $190,102 and rank-and-file lawmakers’ pay from $100,113 a year to $104,117. Pay for other statewide constitutional officers and legislative leaders also will rise.

State officials’ pay has steadily recovered from significant reductions approved by the commission beginning in 2009, which reduced lawmakers’ base pay from $116,208 to $95,291, an 18 percent cut.

That is the goal, said compensation panel Chairman Tom Dalzell.

“This is a modest step back,” said Dalzell, business manager for IBEW Local 1245. He added that “there is no good reason” why lawmakers and constitutional officers had their base pay cut during the recession while other state employees received less take-home pay because of furloughs but their base salaries stayed the same.

Dalzell said the panel will revisit a proposal to look at what the state pays the governor and attorney general. Brown’s salary is significantly less than what many local government officials earn, and most county district attorneys earn more than Attorney General Kamala Harris, San Francisco’s former district attorney, who took a major pay cut after her 2010 victory.

In 2014, for example, more than 430 city managers and assistant city managers earned more than the governor, according to local government pay data collected by the State Controller’s Office. Lawmakers’ pay that year lagged behind that of 360 elected officials in county government.

Yet some lawmakers, particularly those in politically competitive districts, likely will decline to take the raise approved Wednesday. Several lawmakers did not accept the raise approved in May 2015, which raised their pay from $97,197 to the $100,113 annual pay that took effect Dec. 1, 2015.

Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, said California lawmakers already have the highest pay in the country. It would be better, Coupal said, if the Legislature reverted to part-time status.

“The more time they spend in their districts the more they’re connected to the constituents,” he said. Yet a case could be made, he said, for significantly upping the pay of some statewide constitutional officers such as governor.

“No one’s going to dispute that governor is essentially the CEO of state government,” Coupal said.

Besides salaries, lawmakers also receive tax-free per diem payments for every day the Legislature is in session. During the 2015 legislative year, lawmakers taking per diem averaged about $34,000 in payments. Several lawmakers, mostly from the Sacramento region, did not accept per diem last year. The per diem rate rose slightly last October to $176, from $168 in the 2014-15 fiscal year, topping a previous peak of $173 in 2008-09.

California is several years into a post-recession recovery. Brown and others have warned that an economic downturn may not be far off.

If the state slides back into recession, Dalzell suggested that future pay panel members shouldn’t follow the lead of past commissioners who slashed elected officials’ pay during the recession.

“It’s a feel-good symbolic act,” said Dalzell, whose five-year term ends this year. “I think the commissioners on there are really doing what’s right instead of what’s righteous.”

Related stories from Sacramento Bee