Commission to vote on lawmaker pay cuts

May 24, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
In Sacramento, state lawmakers just aren't feeling the love. A new approval poll is out on the job they're doing, and that poor showing may cost them financially as well as politically.

Gov. Jerry Brown proposed a 5 percent pay cut for state workers a couple of weeks ago, saying that everyone needs to share in the pain. Now a voter-approved commission might do the same for him and other state lawmakers.

A new Public Policy Institute of California poll found only 25 percent of those surveyed approve of the job lawmakers in Sacramento are doing. Next week, the Citizens Compensation Commission votes on whether to make them take another 5 percent pay cut.

Assemblyman Dan Logue, R-Chico. thinks it's well-deserved because they're not getting the job done. "We have the second-highest unemployment rate in the country. Jobs are leaving California in record number. Sacramento spends beyond its means. We don't have a spending cap," he said. "I don't blame them."

The voter-approved commission slashed lawmakers' pay 18 percent in 2009, cutting their salary from $116,000 a year to the current $95,000. Another 5 percent would take their pay down to $90,000 a year, but they would still be able to keep their $142-per-day tax-free per diem for living expenses.

Critics say everyday people wouldn't be able to run for office at the rate the commission is cutting.

"I'm very concerned because if the commission continues in the direction that it's headed, only rich people will serve," said Assm. Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles. "And if only rich people are serving, the voters have to ask: Who are they serving?"

Opponents also point out the commission's costly move when it took away lawmakers' cars this year and instead began reimbursing them 53 cents a mile. For many representatives who have big districts, that's more expensive than giving them a car.

"In fact, they're not saving taxpayers' money," said Cedillo. "They're costing the taxpayers more money."

While office-holder pay cuts won't solve California's $16 billion budget deficit, the move may do more to send a message.

"With only 25 percent approving of their job performance, people think that maybe there should repercussions," said Dean Bonner, a policy associate with Public Policy Institute of California.

State Controller John Chiang says he will be following a recent court ruling and will not dock state lawmaker pay for every day the state budget is late. So this proposed 5 percent may win over more Californians.

If approved, the governor will be making $165,000 a year.

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