SACRAMENTO (AP) — California lawmakers will get a pay raise of nearly $5,000 this year while the governor will see an increase of nearly $9,000 after a citizens' panel voted Wednesday to restore some of the cuts it made during the recession.
Gov. Jerry Brown's salary will increase to $173,987, up from $165,288 but still below the high salary of $212,179 in 2008. The base pay of rank-and-file lawmakers will rise to $95,291 a year from the current $90,526, although most lawmakers take home an additional $30,000 a year in per diem payments and many receive additional pay for being committee leaders.
Last year's 5 percent pay cut by the California Citizens Compensation Commission "was very heavily driven by the financial condition of the state," commissioner Scott Somers noted. He said he struggled over whether now is the right time to raise salaries in light of the recent discussions over the state budget.
"How do we now say, 'But by the way, we've got enough money to restore the 5 percent cut for you guys,'?" said Somers, who was appointed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican. "That feels a little funny to me. ... That's a little bit of a dilemma for me."
Brown has urged lawmakers not to restore all the spending cuts for state programs made during the recession.
The commission voted 5-1 in favor of restoring the wages to 2011 levels, amounting to a raise of slightly more than 5 percent of current pay. The panel also voted 4-2 to have the state contribute more to the cost of the elected officials' health care but stopped short of restoring all the cuts it previously made to health benefits.
The new compensation will take effect Dec. 1.
Chairman Thomas Dalzell, a labor attorney appointed by Brown, opted not to vote on both motions because a tie-breaker was not necessary. Brown, a Democrat, has appointed four of the commissioners, while the other three are holdovers from the Schwarzenegger administration. Brown's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the commission's vote.
Commission members cited the state's improving finances and the lack of a deficit in the budget that lawmakers approved last week.
Commissioner John Stites, a Los Angeles County Sherriff's Department sergeant who was appointed by Schwarzenegger, was the lone member of the panel to vote against the pay increase. He objected to the use of the word "restoration" in referring to raises.
"Restoration to me suggests entitlement," he said. "I don't believe that any reductions we have taken are entitlements and that we are obligated in any way to restore them."
Voters created the commission in 1990 as part of Proposition 112 to set salaries, insurance and other benefits for state lawmakers and the eight constitutional officers elected statewide, including the governor and attorney general. The commission also sets the pay for members of the Board of Equalization, which deals with a wide range of tax issues.
The commission previously cut lawmakers' pay by 18 percent, eliminated the state-owned vehicles given to legislators as a perk and rolled back the rate of per diem payments, but did not take up either of the secondary issues Wednesday.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, did not comment on the pay raise. In a written statement released by his office, he said only that "since the commission was created more than two decades ago, we have consistently abided by its decisions and will continue to do so."
California lawmakers are the highest paid state legislators in the country, and many of them receive a supplemental salary for committee chairmanships or legislative duties. Nearly all lawmakers also receive additional tax-free per diem payments.
They do not receive pensions, as lawmakers in some other states do. Many other states also do not have a full-time Legislature, with some meeting only every other year.
The base salary of rank and-file California lawmakers has dropped from $116,208 five years ago.
Commission members noted repeatedly during Wednesday's meeting that if the state's finances should fall again, the commission could revoke this year's raises, and took pains to point out that the money for the salaries would come from existing department budgets, not the state's general fund or other state programs.
Former state lawmaker Gary Hart urged the panel before its vote to increase the rate of pay, saying that talented people might not seek public service otherwise. He noted that some lawmakers have begun leaving the state Legislature to run for local offices that offer higher pay and fewer hardships.
"I worry that the current pay is not able to attract as many strong candidates as we need," he said.