Legislators face 5 percent pay cut next year

The citizens’ panel charged with setting the salaries of state elected officials voted Thursday to cut the pay for legislators, the governor and other top officials by 5 percent next year. The reduction will come on top of an 18 percent pay cut enacted three years ago that has not been restored.

The action means that, effective Dec. 3, most legislators will earn a salary of $90,526 – down from $116,208 in 2009.

The vote was 5-1, with Chairman Thomas Dalzell abstaining. Most commissioners who supported the cut said it was in response to Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget proposal to put state workers on a reduced workweek that would have the effect of reducing their take-home pay by 5 percent.

That proposal has yet to be approved by lawmakers and Brown also must negotiate the proposed changes with employee unions.

Under the new pay schedule, Brown will receive a salary of $165,287.

Dalzell noted that the previous pay cut had been made in response to state-worker furloughs, which effectively cut workers’ pay by 9.2 percent.

Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, pointed to that fact in his response.

“Since the Legislature has already taken an 18 percent pay cut, which is still in place while furloughs for state workers have ended, we believe the commission’s cut is punitive,” he said. “We also would hate to see a system where only the personally wealthy can afford to serve.”

Commissioner Charles Murray, who proposed the 5 percent rollback, acknowledged the savings will make almost no impact on solving the state’s $16 billion budget shortfall.

“It’ll send a message,” he said. “Everyone has to sacrifice.”

Dalzell noted that after the latest reduction takes effect, “legislators’ salaries will be roughly equivalent to that of a skilled construction worker. It boggles my mind.”

In public testimony, the president of a statewide umbrella group of police unions, argued that the commission proposal, coming on top of the previous pay cut, will discourage qualified candidates from running for office.

“You are getting it to a point where in the very near future only the wealthy will be able to serve in Sacramento,” said Ron Cottingham of the Peace Officers Research Association of California.

The ballot initiative that created the commission specified three specific criteria it should consider, including the salaries of elected officials in other states, the salaries of state and local appointed government officials and salaries in the private sector.

Commissioners asserted, however, that it also was within their charge to consider the state budget situation and overall economic conditions in the state.

“There’s nothing in the Constitution that prevents us from looking at other relevant factors,” said Commissioner Scott Somers. “The financial condition of the state has to be taken into consideration.”

The five commissioners who voted for the pay cut were all appointees of former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The two newest members, appointed by Brown, either abstained or voted against the proposal.

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