by Rene Villaroman/Asianjournal.com
LOS ANGELES – California lawmakers gave themselves a salary increase on Monday despite the threat of a statewide budget squeeze. The raise, about $3,000 plus, would hike the lawmakers’ annual salary to $116,208 and higher, according to the Daily News.
The raise is just one of the latest for elected California officials, Los Angeles City and County leaders who have just been granted pay raises amounting to 4.16 percent retroactive to July 1. California legislators are among the nation’s highest paid elected officials. The report said that some elected officials opted not to accept the pay hikes.
The pay raises had come despite dire warnings from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that the State is faced with a $10 billion shortfall next year. Los Angeles City officials have likewise called for department cuts, and County officials are bracing for property-revenue slowdowns due to the mortgage industry meltdown.
“I guess it makes perfect sense that the legislative body that has spent the State into oblivion now wants a pay increase,” commented Jon Couple, President of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. “It’s nothing short of outrageous. They’re the highest-paid, least-effective legislative body probably in America. I don’t see how any raise for this Legislature, which can’t even balance the budget, can be justified.” At least 14 lawmakers have reportedly refused the 2.75 percent raises, Comptroller John Chiang’s office reported.
The rest of the Legislature, however, accepted the increases, bringing their salaries to $116,208 for rank-and-file lawmakers, and $133,639 for the four legislative leaders. The lawmakers also receive about $34,000 a year in per diem payments to cover living expenses. Four lawmakers from the Sacramento area declined the per diem. The Governor’s salary was also raised to $212,179, even though Gov. Schwarzenegger has declined to accept his State salary since taking over in 2003. Insurance Commission Steve Poizner has announced that he would donate his salary increase to charity.
“I’d say everyone should hold back and think twice about any of the raises right now because the State has slipped into a $10 billion structural deficit,” Schwarzenegger said. “I am convinced that they’re interested in getting this mess straightened out in order to show California is fiscally responsible.”
Anthony Portantino, D-Pasadena, a freshman assemblyman, said he declined his increase because as Chairman of the Higher Education Committee he is asking the State’s college and university systems to restrict executive pay raises.
“I’ve been very tough on UC and CSU as Chair of Higher Education for their executive compensation, and I felt it important to do the same. Let’s lead by example,” Portantino said. He added that it was a personal decision and he was not criticizing any colleagues who decided to accept the raise.
Steve Maviglio, spokesman for Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles, said lawmakers are relatively underpaid compared with executives in the private sector, or with what State lawmakers made 40 years ago, adjusted for inflation. “If you compare it to the private sector, you’d be hard-pressed to find anybody in the top level of management of a company with a $130 billion budget that receives a level of pay like that,” Maviglio said.
“It also speaks to the quality of people we can attract. If citizens only want to attract millionaires to the job, that’s who you are going to get if we don’t compensate them adequately.”
At the local level, Los Angeles City and County elected officials recently received rates of about 4 percent, retroactive to July 1. LA Council members and County supervisors will now be making $178,789. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, City Comptroller Laura Chick and four Council members have said they will refuse the increases, while two council members will donate theirs to charity. No County supervisors have publicly announced intentions to refuse the raise. Supervisors Yvonne Burke and Don Knabe said they will accept the salary raise. Board of Supervisors Chairman Zev Yarovslasky was reportedly ill and could not give a comment.