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Calif. lawmakers boost staff pay

August 17, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
While the state's money troubles are forcing many employees to take furloughs and pay cuts, records show some legislators staff members are getting huge pay raises. The news has taxpayer watchdog groups outraged.In a state where unemployment is above 11.5 percent and furloughs and pay cuts are common, California lawmakers doled out pay raises to at least 100 staffers totaling more than half a million dollars.

The Assembly gave out pay hikes to 39 employees that equaled 10 percent or more. Some of those got double that. Over in the Senate, seven employees received double digit bumps.

Some already made six figure salaries before the pay raise. Leaders defend the move saying these are not pay raises in a traditional sense. A lot of it is moving part-time people into full-time positions that became vacant.

"Rather than go out and replace that body, we've given new responsibilities to existing members of the staff and accordingly some of those positions have been reclassified," said Shannon Murphy, a spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker Karen Bass.

Leaders also note their overall operations' spending is down and that's what counts.

"Members have taken 5 percent cuts. We're reduced the number of employees, and we've reduced the cost of our payroll. I'll stand by that record," said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento.

Taxpayer groups are outraged because everyone else is tightening their belts.

"The Legislature has to be very careful about how it is being perceived by the taxpaying public," said Jon Coupal of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. "And any raises in this economic climate are going to be difficult, if not impossible to justify."

Outside the Legislature, overall state payroll is down too by nearly $2 billion, most because of furloughs. But, the number of full-time state workers under Governor Schwarzenegger's control has actually grown.

In June of last year, nearly 212,000 employees were on the payroll. A year later, more than 216,000 drew a state paycheck. That's more than 4,200 positions -- in other words, state government swelled by two percent.

"Most of that is due to factors out of our control. Actually about two-thirds of that is because of federal mandates," said Aaron McLear, Governor Schwarzenegger's spokesman.

"Much of the hiring has been in the state prison health care system, which was deemed unconstitutional.

More staff was needed to bring it into federal compliance. But the Schwarzenegger administration hopes to regain control of inmate health care and slow down hiring.

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