By Jim Miller
Published: Monday, Mar. 24, 2014 – 12:00 am

As the California economy continued its recovery and state revenue grew last year, the Assembly awarded about $1.2 million in raises to a quarter of its full-time employees, including some of its highest-paid staffers, salary records show.

Senate raises were few and far between in 2013. But the payroll for both houses is up about 3 percent from mid-2011, when California was still early in its climb out of the Great Recession.

As of Jan. 31, the Assembly had 1,181 non-hourly employees and a payroll of $71.4 million annually, an increase of about 2.5 percent over May 2011, according to legislative records. The Senate’s Jan. 31 payroll was $67.5 million for 992 employees, a 5 percent increase from its July 2011 payroll.

Assembly officials said the 2013 raises, most of which range from 4 to 6 percent, were given to employees who had not received raises in recent years. They reflected efforts to prevent the loss of talented employees for better-paying jobs in other branches of government or the private sector, officials said.

“You have to, at some point, look at a staff-retention issue,” said Jon Waldie, the Assembly’s chief administrative officer. “We’re trying to be competitive without being fiscally irresponsible.”

State finances have improved significantly since 2012, with tax proceeds for the current fiscal year running about $1 billion ahead of estimates.

After a series of cuts, California lawmakers received a 5 percent pay bump in December, bringing their base pay to $95,291. They could get another boost this spring that would bring them closer to the $110,800 base pay they earned before the recession.

That’s also when the Brown administration will decide whether the state’s balance sheet justifies a 2 percent raise for many of the state’s 180,000 rank-and-file state employees, who faced furlough-caused drops in their pay during the recession.

Yet the finances of many households have stagnated. California’s 2012 median family income of $66,215 marks the fifth straight year of inflation-adjusted decreases, according to the U.S. Census’s most recent American Community Survey.

Rhys Williams, a spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said Senate salaries have remained largely unchanged since 2007. The drought temporarily ended in 2011-12, when the Senate awarded $1.5 million worth of merit raises of up to 5 percent for hundreds of employees whose performance was reviewed on the month of their birthday.

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