By Christopher Cadelago
Published: Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013 – 7:43 am
California lawmakers are getting their first pay raise in six years next month, and unlike previous increases, only a handful are turning down the larger paycheck.
The independent commission that sets pay and benefits for 120 legislators and 12 constitutional officers trimmed compensation as the state struggled through the recession. But with the economy on the rise and tax revenue ticking up, the panel decided that a 5.3 percent partial restoration – to $95,291 from $90,526 annually for rank-and-file lawmakers – was appropriate beginning Dec. 1.
So far, only eight legislators have told the state controller they will turn down the extra money, far fewer than the 21 who rebuffed the last pay hike – 2.75 percent in 2007 – granted as leaders grappled with a $10 billion budget shortfall.
Politicians during the economic recession saw the California Citizens Compensation Commission slash their salaries by nearly 23 percent, a $26,000 cutback for legislators and $47,000 for the governor.
Even before the upcoming raise, base pay for California lawmakers was the highest in the nation. While they do not receive pensions, most accept tax-free per diem checks of roughly $30,000 a year.
Six of the eight legislators not taking the raise are freshmen, so their salaries have not changed since taking office. Two of them – Assemblyman Ken Cooley of Rancho Cordova and Sen. Richard Roth of Riverside, both Democrats – are in competitive districts and expect to have challenging re-election campaigns.
Some lawmakers said it would be misguided to accept a raise they believe was made possible by voters approving Proposition 30’s sales and income tax hikes last November. Others rejecting the pay bumps contend that few of their constituents are receiving comparable increases and expressed trepidation about contributing to the already low perceptions of state government and its elected leaders.
“If the people of California are still looking for jobs, if they are not getting raises, it might not be the best time for legislators to be taking raises, either,” said Assemblyman Travis Allen, R-Huntington Beach.
Allen, who owns a company where he works as an investment adviser, said he knew what the salary was when he accepted the position and was uncomfortable taking more money. Just because voters decided to raise taxes and increase state revenue, “that didn’t seem to be adequate justification to raise legislator salaries,” he said.
Accepting the raise sends the message that lawmakers are putting themselves before taxpayers, said Assemblyman Allan Mansoor, R-Costa Mesa.
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