Assembly speaker generous with raises

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Sacramento Bee (California)

Top employees of Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez recently received raises as high as 22 percent to boost their salaries, most already exceeding $100,000, at a time when state government continues to spend billions more than it receives in revenue.

Dan Eaton, Nunez’s chief of staff, received an 18 percent increase that will pump an additional $30,000 into his wallet this year and make him the Legislature’s first employee to earn more than $200,000 annually, state records show.

Eight employees working in Nunez’s office or for his Assembly Democratic Caucus earn more than the speaker’s own base salary of $130,000, which is set by an independent commission.

Eaton’s pay of $200,004 exceeds that of the lieutenant governor and every one of the state’s constitutional officers except the governor, who is scheduled to make $206,500, although Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has declined to accept his state pay.

Overall, the Legislature has more than 200 employees earning salaries exceeding $100,000 annually — 93 Assembly employees and 112 Senate workers, according to Jan. 1 salary records.

Ted Costa, chief executive officer of People’s Advocate, which launched the recall drive against former Gov. Gray Davis, said huge salary hikes are hard to swallow when the state is struggling to bridge a projected $5 billion budget gap.

“I think if they want to make the big bucks, they ought to get out and work in private enterprise,” Costa said.

While Nunez rewarded 20 workers with salary hikes of 8 percent or more, most workers in state government received a 3.5 percent general salary increase and a one-time $1,000 bonus.

Steve Maviglio, Nunez’s spokesman, said it is important to pay competitive salaries to retain top employees, particularly in an era of term limits, when lawmakers can serve no more than six years in the Assembly or eight in the Senate.

“It’s commonplace in corporate America to pay your senior staff better to retain them when you’re competing against other companies,” Maviglio said. “It’s exactly the same thing in the public sector.”

Maviglio, Nunez’s deputy chief of staff, received an 11 percent salary increase, amounting to $16,056, which raised his annual salary to $165,000.

Key legislative employees with expertise in complicated subject areas — from water policy to transportation planning — tend to be attractive candidates for special-interest lobbying jobs paying far more than $100,000.

Maviglio said the possibility of a “brain drain” within Nunez’s office is even more likely this year than in years past, because the Los Angeles lawmaker will be termed out in 2008.

“In an era of term limits, it’s harder and harder to keep senior staff,” he said.

Though California has been plagued by massive budget deficits in recent years, legislative spending has climbed steadily because of a ballot measure passed in 1990. Proposition 140 slashed the Legislature’s budget by $56 million but tied future increases to population and per capita income, not state tax revenues.

Eaton’s $200,004 salary is more than six times higher than California’s median income of $33,223 in 2004, the most recent year for which figures are available. Eaton, an attorney and trusted political adviser, declined to comment Monday.

Tim Hodson, director of the Center for California Studies at California State University, Sacramento, said “expertise costs money.”

“Would the people of California be better served if legislative staffers were all 22 years old and making $22,000 a year, with no experience?” Hodson asked.

But Doug Heller, executive director of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, said legislative staff jobs should not be measured by pay alone. Lucrative pensions and quality health care plans add to their attractiveness, he said.

“Certainly taxpayers should be hiring the best and brightest, but there should be some fiscal restraint,” he said.

Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, like Nunez, also rewarded a handful of his top employees recently. But no member of the senator’s staff received more than a 10.6 percent raise, records show.

Diane Cummins, chief assistant to Perata, D-Oakland, is his highest-paid employee at $152,640.

Thirteen of Perata’s highest-paid employees in his own office or serving his Rules Committee or Senate Democratic Caucus received no pay hike during the six-month period, records show.

Among GOP legislative employees, Peter Schaafsma, a caucus chief consultant, is the Assembly’s highest paid at $148,092. Wade Teasdale is the Senate’s highest-paid Republican employee, at $126,912.

Salary records do not include any bonuses received or compensation for off-duty work, such as campaigning or consulting.

California’s top legislative staff salaries pale in comparison to those of many corporate chief executive officers or private attorneys.

Six-figure public salaries also are common. More than 3,700 state employees earned more than $110,000 as of March 2006, records show.

In the Governor’s Office, Schwarzenegger’s chief of staff, Susan Kennedy, receives a $131,000 salary but also pocketed $100,000 in bonuses last year from the governor’s campaign committee.

Stan Rosenstein, California’s Medi-Cal director, was talked out of retiring recently with a $67,000 raise, boosting his salary from $118,000 to $185,000.

James Tilton was hired as the permanent state prisons chief at a salary of $225,000 last year, a jump of more than $93,500.

All members of the Legislature, except leaders, receive a base salary of $113,098, plus a car allowance and about $29,000 in annual tax-free living expenses, which typically are rejected by Sacramento-area legislators. Proposition 140 eliminated pension benefits for members of the Legislature who did not serve before 1990.

Highest paid legislative aides:
Name — Office — 2007 salary — Increase

Dan Eaton – Assembly speaker – $200,004 – 18%
Greg Schmidt – Senate secretary – $176,304 – 0%
Steve Maviglio – Assembly speaker – $165,000 – 11%
Craig Cornett – Assembly Democratic Caucus – $161,004 – 8%
Rick Simpson – Assembly Democratic Caucus – $161,004 – 8%
Arnold Sowell – Assembly Democratic Caucus – $161,004 – 22%
Jon Waldie – Assembly Rules – $157,008 – 0%
Gus Demas – Assembly Rules – $155,004 – 0%
Diane Cummins – Senate president – $152,640 – 0%
Fredericka McGee – Assembly Democratic Caucus – $150,000 – 15%
Dotson Wilson – Assembly chief clerk – $150,000 – 0%

Fabian Nunez aides with the top salary hikes:
Name / 2007 salary / 2006 salary / Increase

Arnold Sowell – $161,004 – $132,000 – 22%
George Wiley – $125,004 – $105,636 – 18%
Dan Eaton – $200,004 – $170,004 – 18%
Gabrielle Zeps – $115,008 – $98,004 – 17%
Francesca Sousa – $130,008 – $111,996 – 16%
Denise Vallier – $127,008 – $110,004 – 15%
Fredericka McGee – $150,000 – $129,996 – 15%
Mary-Lucille Kaems – $110,004 – $96,960 – 13%
Sheryl Greenberg – $127,008 – $114,408 – 11%
Steve Maviglio – $165,000 – $148,944 – 11%

Notes: Raises stem from comparisons of state salary records of July 1, 2006, and Jan. 1, 2007. Totals do not include any bonuses or off-duty campaign or consulting work.

Source: California Legislature

The Bee’s Jim Sanders can be reached at (916) 326-5538 or [email protected].

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