California Politicians Paycheck Payback

You will love this story.

Salaries for California state elected officials are set by a, more or less, independent California Citizens Compensation Commission, just one of the scores of appointed boards and commissions which serve as waysides for other politicians in transition.  This commission is a little different.  The Governor appoints members to seven seats by categories: small business, non-profit public interest organization, general population, labor (two seats, of course), compensation expert, and major corporation executive. Commission members serve six-year terms.

In populist California the Pay Commission was created through the initiative process (how else!)  because citizens were fed up with state legislators raising their own salaries, giving themselves all state car allowances and boosting their per diem so they can be wined and dined at Sacramento’s many fine restaurants without having to spend their own money on it.

Proposition 112, passed by voters in June 1990, required the Commission to set the salaries and medical, dental, insurance and other similar benefits of Members of the Legislature and the State’s other elected officials.

Proposition 1F, passed by voters in May 2009, prevents the Commission from increasing elected officials’ salaries during budget deficit years.

So fast forward, after Prop 1F was passed the Pay Commission got the message that the voters were surly. California faces a major budget deficit and many of the special interest groups were also squealing that their programs are being cut in the Govenator’s proposed budget.  So in May 2009, shortly after the Prop 1F ballot measured passed the Pay Commission ordered the salaries of State Legislators and all state elected officials to be cut by 18 percent.  A scramble ensued at the State Capitol about whether they could actually do that!!!  EeeGads!

Politicians seeking cover on the issue sent their administrative staff from Senate Rules and Assembly Rules committees to the front lines asking Attorney General Jerry Brown whether the Commission could cut salaries (PLEASE, Jerry, save us!)  and whether any cuts approved would have to wait until the next Legislative Session (December 2010) to be effective ( or at least buy us time and wiggle room!) .

But Attorney General Brown is running for Governor so—surprise, surprise last week he issued a legal opinion asserting that, of course, state officials’ pay can be cut and the Commission can do so in the middle of their elected terms.

So on December 7th (Pear Harbor Day—how fitting) the state will cut the pay of all 120 lawmakers and nine constitutional officers, including candidate Jerry Brown, now Mr. Fiscal Conservative instead of former Governor Moonbeam, a year earlier than expected, saving the state $2.8 million next year.

The Pay Commission Chairman Chuck Murray was surprised by Brown’s action telling the press there had been no discussion of implementing the pay cuts midterm since the Commission didn’t want a fight with the Legislature.

In addition to their salary, now reduced from $116k to $95k, California lawmakers get $173 for each day they are in Sacramento (so, of course, they always are!), and up to $400 a month for automobile leases, as well as state contributions for health benefits. The Pay Commissions order also whacks all of these benefits by 18 percent next month along with the pay cuts save the state another $1.2 million next year.

Let’s hear it for Populism in action!