SACRAMENTO (AP) — California lawmakers have handed out raises to more than 1,000 employees of the Legislature in the last year, even as they made deep budget cuts and trimmed pay for other state workers. The news comes as Democrats promote a November ballot initiative seeking to temporarily raise income and sales taxes to help ease California's ongoing budget woes.
Newly released documents show that officials in the state Assembly and Senate approved raises as high as 10 percent for some top-level staffers. More than 110 of the 1,090 raises given out in the last fiscal year went to legislative employees who were making salaries above $100,000, according to the Los Angeles Times, which first reported the raises.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrel Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said he would seek to freeze pay increases in the Senate for the coming year, but the Assembly has not made any such move.
A spokesman for Steinberg, Rhys Williams, said the merit increases came after several years of pay freezes and reductions in operating expenses in the Legislature. He said the cost of living has risen much faster than legislative pay over the last five years.
He said it is wrong for opponents of Gov. Jerry Brown's November tax initiative to link the salaries to Democrats who control both houses of the state Legislature.
"The Republican members have given their staff raises as well. They are nonpartisan staff ... They all fall in the same category, which is having seen their pay overtaken by inflation," Williams said Friday.
He said all the raises were merit increases based upon performance reviews and that lawmakers who objected were free to reject the recommended raises for employees under their purview.
Steinberg's chief assistant, Kathryn Dresslar, was among those who received pay raises, a 10 percent increase to $183,480 a year.
In the Assembly, Christopher Woods, chief budget consultant for Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, was the highest paid employee to receive a raise, of 3.6 percent, which puts his annual pay at $193,476.
Jon Waldie, chief administration officer for the Assembly Rules Committee, said more than 200 of the 300 Assembly staffers who received merit increases were lower-paid support staff. He said employees who had not had a merit increase in at least three years were eligible to receive increases between 3.6 percent and 5 percent, with lower-paid staff getting the higher percentage increase.
About 200 additional Assembly employees received "reclassification" increases when they changed jobs, Waldie said.
"I think when you put that policy in the context of returning $22 million a year to the general fund — it helps us retain staff," Waldie said. "I think it's appropriate to use some of that money to retain staff, especially those who haven't had an increase in over three years."
Meanwhile, thousands of state employees are being required to take one day a month of unpaid leave, which amounts to a pay cut of about 5 percent. The reduction was part of the state budget that lawmakers approved last month and signed by Brown.
"Union members had furloughs, which has resulted in pay cuts, but in the meantime they have continued to receive merit step increases, which have offset those pay cuts," said Williams, of Steinberg's office. "So the notion that there is some sort of imbalance there is not right. They have continued to receive merit step increases, which the Senate has just frozen."
Jim Zamora, a spokesman for the state's largest public employee union, Service Employees International Union Local 1000, did not immediately return a message seeking comment Friday.