Four of every five lawmakers are accepting full pay of $116,208. Besides salary, lawmakers are entitled to about $35,000 annually in tax-free per diem for living expenses, plus use of a leased vehicle, with gasoline and maintenance. Only seventeen of the 120 legislators have rejected the car and six have turned down per diem.
The SacBee reports that California‘s legislators are the nation’s highest paid but make considerably less than many top officials of large cities, counties and school districts, records show. Upon leaving office, legislators receive no pension or health benefits.
While the Senate and Assembly have control over budgets and programs affecting millions of Californians, they can’t control the pay of their own members, which is set by an independent commission. Voter passage of Prop 112 nearly two decades ago created an independent panel of gubernatorial appointees to set salaries for lawmakers and constitutional officers. The commission voted last month to impose an 18 percent pay cut, which would drop legislators’ salaries by $20,917 annually – from $116,208 to $95,291.
But there’s a catch: California’s constitution allows state officeholders’ salaries to rise – but not fall – in the middle of their terms, so the pay cut cannot be imposed until December 2010 for 100 lawmakers and 2012 for 20 others. However, lawmakers can impose their own pay cut by requesting that the State Controller issue a deduction.
In fact three legislators immediately cut their salaries by the 18 percent approved by the pay commission – Assemblyman Mike Eng, D-Monterey Park; Sen. Abel Maldonado, R-Santa Maria; and Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach.
Are all legislative leaders likely to volunteer to take an 18 percent pay cut before it’s required by law? No. But if they did, it would transform Californians’ perceptions of state leaders – showing them as actual leaders. It would create a sense that we are all in this together.
Instead they continue to forge a two tiered system that demonstrates what’s good for the gander is not good for the goose. They have shown a willingness to quickly end welfare-to work programs and eliminate health insurance for 1 million children from low-income families. They have demonstrated a willingness to cut the pay of teachers, public safety officers and government workers – yet they seem unwilling to suffer alongside the common man. Then again, perhaps its harder than I think to live on a mere $150,000 a year.
And who knows — next time legislative leaders go out on a limb to craft a compromise on a budget, as they tried to do with the May 19 propositions, voters might actually respect them enough to pass it.