A Raise is Probably Out of the Question

The people who set lawmakers' salaries are meeting in Burbank. Proposals include another big pay cut

Imagine your supervisors -- seven of them -- telling you before the start of your performance review: "We hear you're doing a really lousy job and you're to blame for this mess."

A raise and company car are probably out of the question.

That's how the state commission that sets California state officials' salaries opened its hearing Thursday. Members started with a stinging rebuke of legislators, noting the public is angry and blames legislators for California's financial mess.

The seven-member California Citizens Compensation Commission last year trimmed pay 18 percent for lawmakers and statewide officeholders. Until last year, it had frozen salaries five times but had never cut officials' pay.

The commission was created under a political reform measure approved by voters in 1990.

Proposals for this year include enacting another big pay cut, switching elected officials to merit pay, and docking legislators' salaries $1,000 for every $100,000 the state runs over its budget.

Commissioners said they will decide on salary cuts of up to 10 percent when they meet in Sacramento in June. That could include reducing a range of benefits -- such as daily expense allowances, vehicle allowances and health insurance -- in addition to salaries.

Commissioner Scott Somers said the panel is not supposed to consider lawmaker performance but conceded that it's difficult when so many people are calling for cuts. He said there's a perception lawmakers are "doing a really lousy job," and that's hard to ignore.

Easy Targets or the Real Culprits

Last year, the commission figured lawmakers should suffer the same fate as other state programs that were being reduced as California dealt with a massive budget deficit. The state faces another shortfall through June 2011, this one projected at $20 billion.

Much of the attention has focused on legislators, who are entitled to one and often two state-provided vehicles: one for use in their district and one in the capital, depending on where they live. They buy gasoline on state charge cards or fill up at state pumps. The state pays to fly legislators to and from Sacramento if they represent distant districts.

While most other states reimburse actual lodging and other living expenses, California lawmakers receive a flat $141.86 on days when the Legislature is in session -- called a per diem.

Former state Senate Pro Tem David Roberti, who backed the legislation that created the commission, told commissioners Thursday that they should be careful in considering cuts. He noted lawmakers already lack a pension and usually work an average 12 years in the Legislature -- years that would be their most productive in the private sector.

"The stress, the polarization and... the lack of compensation doesn't balance out," Roberti said.

Roberti said he wouldn't urge young people to run for office today, saying he would tell them, "Wait until you make your first billion, then run for office."

While lawmakers bear some responsibility for the state's economic woes, Roberti said the worldwide recession is the root cause and lawmakers are not to blame for that.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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