SACRAMENTO, CA — A state commission granted lawmakers a 12 percent pay hike that boosted their annual salaries to $110,880, the highest compensation in the country for state legislators.
The salary increase approved Monday will take effect in December and is the first raise for most Assembly and Senate offices since 1998. It was immediately criticized by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was swept into office in the 2003 recall election when the state faced a nearly $20 billion budget deficit.
“Obviously, now is not the time to give politicians in Sacramento more money,” said Vince Sollitto, the governor’s deputy press secretary. “Given the fiscal challenge that the state continues to face, this sends the wrong message.”
Schwarzenegger has refused to accept his $175,000 annual governor’s salary.
Monday’s 5-0 vote by the Citizens Compensation Commission will cost taxpayers between $1.5 million and $2 million a year and cannot be overturned by the Legislature or the governor.
The base salary for lawmakers in both houses will grow from $99,000 to $110,880 beginning in December. Party leaders such as the Assembly speaker and the Senate president pro tem also got increases that brought their salaries to $127,512.
Lawmakers also receive a per diem payment of $138 a day during the legislative session, primarily for temporary housing in Sacramento. During a typical year, that can boost their overall compensation by thousands of dollars.
Steve Maviglio, spokesman for Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles, defended the commission vote. He said higher salaries for lawmakers are necessary to attract good candidates for office.
“The speaker respects the decision,” he said. “If we want to continue to attract topflight legislators, their salaries need to be competitive with other public positions.”
Maviglio noted that even with Monday’s pay raise, lawmakers still will be paid less than members of the U.S. Congress, who make $158,000 a year, and Superior Court judges, who make about $140,000 annually.
He also said California lawmakers are the only full-time legislators in the country who are not also included in their state’s pension system. Maviglio confirmed that the raise will make California legislators the nation’s highest-paid state lawmakers.
The seven-member commission was formed in June 1990 when voters approved Proposition 112. Two of its positions are vacant.
All members are appointed by the governor with staggered terms, and the Legislature has no authority over the commission’s actions. Schwarzenegger has not made any appointments to the commission since he was sworn into office in November 2003.
The increases were given to legislators only. Salaries paid to the constitutional officers – such as the governor, the lieutenant governor and attorney general – remain the same. Party leaders also received a salary boost in 1999.
Jamie Court, president of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights in Santa Monica, called the wage increase excessive, in part, he said, because many lawmakers do not have good voting records.
“Given that they don’t vote but a third of the time, they should have their pay cut,” said Court, whose group has tracked voting records of the Legislature. “These are hard economic times and it seems this is a rather excessive pay increase for a group of folks that haven’t been doing their job all that well.”
Thomas Dominguez, a member of the commission who was originally appointed by Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, said lawmakers have waited long enough for a pay increase.
“The data suggests that they are falling behind, especially when compared to what other state employees have gotten,” he said.
Dominguez said if the state does not periodically increase lawmaker pay, average citizens might not consider running for office.
“I do not want to see this Legislature turn into a club for the rich and famous,” he said.
On the Net
Governor’s home page: http://www.governor.ca.gov/state/govsite/gov-homepage.jsp
Department of Personnel Administration: http://www.dpa.ca.gov/home.shtm