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Legislative pay hikes could hurt tax plan

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POSTED August 6, 2012 9:10 p.m.




SACRAMENTO  (AP) — The leader of the state Senate said Monday that he had "a few sleepless nights" during lawmakers' summer break worrying that pay raises given to legislative staffers could undermine Gov. Jerry Brown's tax initiative in November.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg defended the raises to more than 1,000 legislative employees. But he said he also recognizes they could hurt Democrats' effort to pass an initiative that would temporarily raise income and sales taxes.

The revelation led to widespread outrage because the raises were handed out as lawmakers were making deep budget cuts. Opponents already are using the raises as ammunition against the tax proposal.

Steinberg said the state's budget deficit seemed to be finally under control when he authorized the raises a year ago. He said he felt then that the state could afford to bring legislative employees' wages back in line with other state workers who had been receiving regular merit increases even as they lost pay to furloughs.

"I will admit I've had a few sleepless nights over the break about it, because you know I pride myself on thinking through things," Steinberg, D-Sacramento, told reporters.

"The last thing I want to do is — I want the taxes to pass and the state to recover. But you know what? We live with our decisions, and we did it for the right and a fair reason," he said.

"Part of this job is you take the hits. You take the hits and move on."

Some top Assembly and Senate employees were given raises as high as 10 percent, and more than 110 of the 1,090 raises went to employees with salaries above $100,000.

Steinberg has said he will freeze Senate pay increases for the coming year, but Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, will not.

The Assembly has a policy allowing for "modest salary increases for long-term employees whose salaries have been frozen for longer than three years, and for employees who have taken on significant new responsibilities," said Perez's spokesman, John Vigna. He said there are no plans to change that.

Steinberg and Vigna said the Senate and Assembly have cut their budgets substantially in other areas in recent years.

Opponents of the November tax initiative have also criticized Democratic lawmakers for failing to agree with the Democratic governor on major reforms to the state's massively underfunded pension systems.

Steinberg promised that legislators will make substantial changes before they adjourn Aug. 31, despite opposition from public employee unions that are Democratic lawmakers' major benefactors.

"We have a common goal here," Steinberg said. Both are committed to passing Brown's tax increases and both want to put the public employee pension issue to rest at a time of voter backlash against public sector employees in other states.

"The only way to accomplish both of those goals is to deal with it," Steinberg said. "Will it cause some discomfort, unhappiness? Yes. Do you sometimes disagree with your friends and your allies in order to do what you think is the right thing? Yes. And so I never expected that we're going to get high fives for any of this."


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