By Susan Ferriss
sferriss@sacbee.com
Published: Thursday, Apr. 22, 2010 – 12:00 am | Page 1A

The commission that regulates California legislators’ salaries will consider a proposal Thursday that could slash lawmakers’ pay by at least a quarter in less than a year.

The Governor’s Office, which appoints the commissioners, is suggesting the panel won’t necessarily vote immediately.

“Until we’re out of this crisis, we all need to continue to cut back,” said Aaron McLear, spokesman for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. “We’ll support whatever the commission decides to do, but it may be prudent to wait until the May revision (of the budget) to decide this issue.”

Those are fighting words for some lawmakers, who are convinced these days that the governor is holding a pay cut over their heads until he gets the budget he wants.

“I’m not aware of the provision in the constitution that says the commission sets the legislators’ salaries based on what the governor’s budget proposal is,” said Nathan Barankin, spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.

Some political veterans are also questioning whether the Citizens Compensation Commission is overstepping its bounds.

Former state Senate President Pro Tem David Roberti, who pushed creation of the California Citizens Compensation Commission in 1990 and saw his own pay rise as a result, said he may testify against further cuts at today’s meeting in Burbank.

If a body has the power to keep cutting salaries, Roberti said, “you run the risk of somebody saying, ‘What can I do to prevent offending someone who holds decisions over (my earnings) – and my family?’ ”

Legislators and Schwarzenegger – who has appointed all six commissioners – face imminent negotiations over the state’s budget deficit.

The Democratic-majority Legislature has wrestled with the Republican governor over how much to cut social programs and other areas of state government.

The commission is set to consider a proposal to cut legislators’ salaries by 10 percent.

Last year, it cut legislators’ salaries by 18 percent – along with a range of benefits – contending that lawmakers were too highly paid compared to those in other states and that the state was in fiscal crisis.

Assemblyman Cameron Smyth, R-Santa Clarita, said the 18 percent cut was “reasonable” given the state’s crisis, but that it has hurt his family and that another 10 percent cut “could be seen as heavy-handed.”

Assembly staff calculates that the 18 percent cuts to salary, health benefits, per diem and car payments add up to a 26 percent cut to most members’ compensation.

Roberti said the commission is supposed to base its decisions on the degree of responsibility legislators have, along with comparisons to the compensation received by local elected officials and legislators in other states.

California lawmakers’ base pay is still comparatively high, but New York – a comparable state – boosts that pay for more than half its legislators with bonuses for leadership jobs.

Commission chairman Chuck Murray said the commission is independent of the governor, and that members base decisions on a range of ideas, including the fact that the state is in dire fiscal straits.

He said public comments that urge paring legislators’ salary “play a role,” but that subjective views of legislators’ performance should not.

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