Several Calif. Lawmakers Gave Raises during Budget Crisis

August 17, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Several lawmakers are returning to Sacramento from their summer break facing fresh criticism. A review of pay records shows they rewarded employees with raises totaling close to $600-thousand dollars this year.In a state where unemployment is above 11.5% and furloughs and pay cuts are common, California lawmakers doled out pay raises to at least 100 staffers totaling more than half a million dollars.

The assembly gave out pay hikes to 39 employees that equaled 10% or more. Some of those got double that. Over in the senate, 7 employees received double digit bumps Some already made six figure salaries before the pay raise.

Leaders defend the move saying these are not pay raises in a traditional sense. A lot of it is moving part-time people into full-time positions that became vacant. "Rather than go out and replace that body, we've given new responsibilities to existing members of the staff and accordingly some of those positions have been reclassified," said Speaker's Office Spokeswoman Shannon Murphy.

Leaders also note their overall operations spending is down and that's what counts. "Members have taken 5% cuts. We're reduced the number of employees, and we've reduced the cost of our payroll. I'll stand by that record," said Senate President Darrell Steinberg.

Taxpayer groups are outraged because everyone else is tightening their belts. "The legislature has to be very careful about how it is being perceived by the taxpaying public; and any raises in this economic climate are going to be difficult, if not impossible to justify," said Jon Coupal with the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

Outside the legislature, overall state payroll is down too by nearly $2 billion dollars, most because of 3 day-per-month furloughs. But, the number of full-time state workers under Governor Schwarzenegger's control has actually grown.

In June of last year, nearly 212,000 employees were on the payroll. A year later, more than 216,000 drew a state paycheck. That's more than 4,200 positions. In other words, state government swelled by 2%.

"Most of that is due to factors out of our control. Actually about 2/3rds of that is because of federal mandates," Governor Schwarzenegger's Press Secretary Aaron McLear.

Much of the hiring has been in the state prison healthcare system, which was deemed unconstitutional. More staff was needed to bring it into federal compliance. But the Schwarzenegger administration hopes to regain control of inmate healthcare and slow down hiring.

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