SACRAMENTO (AP) — A state panel on Thursday sent a message about the severity of California's $15.7 billion budget deficit by approving a 5 percent pay cut for lawmakers and statewide elected officials, including Gov. Jerry Brown.
The California Citizens Compensation Commission, which sets pay and health benefits for those offices, voted 5-1 in favor of the cuts that take effect Dec. 3.
"I agree that this isn't going to make a dent, but I think it will send a message that we have to move on. ... Everybody has to sacrifice and a lot have done so much more than others," said Commissioner Charles Murray, who proposed the reduction.
The independent panel previously reduced salaries for 120 members of the Legislature and 12 statewide officeholders by 18 percent in 2009.
California lawmakers do not receive pensions but are the highest paid in the nation with a base annual salary of $95,290. Nearly all receive additional tax-free per diem payments of about $30,000 a year.
The pay cut will drop their salaries to $90,525, which commissioners said would still keep them at the top of the national list on a cash basis. The leaders of the Assembly and Senate will be cut from $109,584, to $104,105.
Brown's salary will be reduced from just under $174,000 to about $165,000. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom will see his $130,000 salary reduced to about $124,000. And the pay of Attorney General Kamala Harris will drop from about $151,000 to less than $144,000.
Commissioner Ruth Lopez Novodor, the only member to vote against the proposal, said the 5 percent cut should only take effect if the governor successfully negotiates a pay reduction for state workers. Brown has proposed talks with unions to reduce the state workweek from five to four days.
The governor estimates that proposal would save the state 5 percent, or $402 million, on salaries. In addition, his proposed budget would reduce the state workforce to about 216,000, down from 225,000 workers in 2007-08 and about 4,000 fewer than last year.
State employees temporarily lost pay through furloughs ordered by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The cut was about 14 percent but pay has since been restored and relatively few state workers have lost their jobs to layoffs.
Assembly Speaker John Perez said by cutting pay twice, the commission could create a political system where only the wealthy can afford to serve.
"Since the Legislature has already taken an 18 percent pay cut, which is still in place while furloughs for state workers have ended, we believe the commission's cut is punitive and ignores the size and complexity of the job and the facts regarding comparable legislative bodies," Perez said in a statement.
Thomas Dalzell, chairman of the commission, chose to abstain from Thursday's vote. He noted that the governor makes less than trial judges and that lawmakers' salaries are roughly equivalent to a skilled construction worker.
"To cut them further boggles my mind," Dalzell said.
Commissioner John Stites said lawmakers and other state elected officials should lead by example and cut their pay 5 percent.
"It's their responsibility to take care of the economy, and it's failing," Stites said. "The state is going under. There's going to be significant reductions. It's going to have to come from public employees regardless of where they are. We start here."
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Pennsylvania is the next highest-paid state and lawmakers there receive $82,026 a year, followed by New York where lawmakers make $79,500 a year. Both states also provide per diems.
The panel also remains divided over the scope of its authority, specifically whether it has the power to change travel and living expenses. On Thursday, the panel voted to ask the Department of Personnel Administration to approve funding for a private attorney to make a recommendation.