California commission considers cutting Calif. officials’ pay |

California commission considers cutting Calif. officials’ pay

BURBANK, Calif. (AP) – The state commission that sets the salaries of elected lawmakers said Thursday that it will consider 5- to 10-percent pay cuts and warned that an angry public blames officials for California’s financial mess.

The seven-member California Citizens Compensation Commission last year trimmed pay 18 percent for lawmakers and statewide officeholders. Chairman Charles Murray said at a commission hearing that it has received up to 100 e-mails showing the public wants more cuts.

Proposals ranged from enacting another big pay cut, to switching elected officials to merit pay, to docking legislators’ salaries $1,000 for every $100,000 the state runs over its budget. Murray said he will arrange for the comments to be sent to Assembly and Senate leaders and the governor.

Commissioners met for less than two hours Thursday and said they will decide on salary and benefit cuts of up to 10 percent when they meet in Sacramento in June, although the figure could change based on the state budget proposal and other financial reports. Besides salaries, the cuts could include reducing a range of benefits – such as daily expense allowances, vehicle allowances and health insurance.

Commissioner Scott Somers said the panel is not supposed to consider lawmaker performance but conceded that it’s difficult when so many people are calling for cuts. He said there’s a perception lawmakers are “doing a really lousy job,” and that’s hard to ignore.

However, Murray noted that the panel’s job is not to punish lawmakers for poor performance.

“That change is made at the polls in November,” he said.

Murray said the panel must do its fair share, however, to help the financially stricken state. He noted that other state workers have been forced to take unpaid furlough days.

“You can’t reduce the salaries of all the employees and not reduce the salaries of the bosses,” Murray said.

Last year, the commission figured lawmakers should suffer the same fate as other state programs that were being reduced as California dealt with a massive budget deficit. The state faces another shortfall through June 2011, this one projected at $20 billion.

Much of the attention has focused on legislators, who are entitled to one and often two state-provided vehicles: one for use in their district and one in the capital, depending on where they live. They buy gasoline on state charge cards or fill up at state pumps. The state pays to fly legislators to and from Sacramento if they represent distant districts.

While most other states reimburse actual lodging and other living expenses, California lawmakers receive a flat $141.86 on days when the Legislature is in session – called a per diem.

Former state Senate Pro Tem David Roberti, who backed the legislation that created the commission, told commissioners Thursday that they should be careful in considering cuts. He noted lawmakers already lack a pension and usually work an average 12 years in the Legislature – years that would be their most productive in the private sector.

“The stress, the polarization and … the lack of compensation doesn’t balance out,” Roberti said.

Roberti said he wouldn’t urge young people to run for office today, saying he would tell them, “Wait until you make your first billion, then run for office.”

While lawmakers bear some responsibility for the state’s economic woes, Roberti said the worldwide recession is the root cause and lawmakers are not to blame for that.

Attorney General Jerry Brown decided last year that the commission can cut elected officials salaries during the middle of their terms in office rather than waiting until a new crop of lawmakers is sworn in.

That allowed the state to reduce legislators’ base salaries from $116,000 a year to $95,000 starting last December. The decision also reduced the salaries for the eight statewide constitutional officers and four members of the Board of Equalization.

The commission was created under a political reform measure approved by voters in 1990. Until last year, it had frozen salaries five times but had never cut officials’ pay.

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