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18Aug/090

California Legislators Increase Staff Pay

The past year has not been a good one for the United States financially.  The State of California has also been hit hard by the economic recession.  Decreased tax revenues and an increased demand on social services have put the state in a dire financial situation.  In light of the economic reality facing California, the state legislature recently passed a budget that included deep cuts in state spending.  This action on their part was absolutely necessary.

But there is something rotten going on in Sacramento.  During the first half of this year, several California lawmakers rewarded their employees with pay increases.  As the state budget deficit was increasing and many government workers were forced to take furlough days and other pay cuts, at least 87 staff members of the California Assembly, approximately seven percent of the 1,206 employees on their payroll, received combined raises in excess of $430,000.  In the State Senate, nine staff members received raises totaling more than $152,000.

In the Assembly, 10 of the pay increases went to Republican staffers and 12 went to security staff employed by the Assembly Rules Committee.  The other 65 raises went to employees of Democratic legislators or their committees.  Out of the 87 people who received a bump in compensation, 39 staffers received pay increases of 10 percent or more, and 15 of those people got raises of 20 percent or more.  In the Senate, seven of the nine staffers who got raises received an increase of 10 percent or more.  Out of the total 96 people who received pay increases, five Assembly staffers and two Senate staffers who already made $100,000 or more a year got raises.

According to records obtained under the state Legislative Open Records Act, three of the pay raises went to employees in the office of Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D-LA), and three went to staff members of the Democratic caucus she oversees.  Assemlywoman Lori Saldana (D-San Diego) handed out the largest pay increase to an individual staff.  Her $41,000 in pay increases included 20 percent raises for three of her employees and a 15 percent increase for her chief of staff, Lucy Krohn, bringing her annual salary to $110,640.  The Assemblymember who represents the district in which I reside, Majority Leader Alberto Torrico (D-Fremont), gave a raise to one of his employees.

When asked about the pay increases, aides to several members of the Assembly and Senate said some of the pay increases were not raises in the traditional sense.  Instead, they characterized the higher pay as extra compensation for employees who were working more hours.

I cannot be the only person enraged by all of this.  When the State of California is asking hundreds of thousands of government workers to take a reduction in pay, it is outrageous for members of the state legislature to be handing out generous raises to members of their staffs.  And any notions of these pay increase not being raises in the traditional sense of the word is laughable.  From my own personal experience in the job that I am currently employed at, workers in the private sector are being forced to take on additional responsibilities these days without any pay increases at all.  In fact, many of my co-workers are being forced to take on additional responsibilities at work with the threat of cuts in pay if they do not do so.

People who work in state government should be there for the betterment of society, not to increase their personal wealth.  The money spent on the staffs of California state legislators should be tightly controlled.  Percentage pay increases to the entire staff of each legislator should not be allowed to exceed pay increases given to state legislators in any given year.  If a legislator feels a certain staffer deserves a larger raise, that legislator should be forced to cut costs in other places in their own staff budget to offset the raise.  It is time for the spoiled members of the state legislature to step outside their elitist world which insulates them from the harsh realities that face many Californians each and every day.

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