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Lawmakers' pay cuts may not be legal

November 6, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
State lawmakers are facing big cuts in their paychecks and perks, but their leaders are questioning whether the action is legal.While state lawmakers are in Sacramento, they receive roughly $35,000 tax free in per diem a year for living expenses. That's on top of their six-figure salaries.

The independent Citizen Compensation Commission voted earlier this year to slash both by 18 percent. The per diem cut starts next month, and the pay cut starts next December.

"No one likes to have their pay cut, but given the realities of our economics and so on, if it is their wisdom that that's what we should do, then I'm going to do that," said Sen. Leland Yee of San Francisco.

For rank-and-file lawmakers, their salaries would go from $116,000 to $95,000 a year.

But now, there is a move to block the cuts because they might be illegal.

"Our Legislative Counsel did ask for an opinion from the attorney general as to whether or not what the commission did was in their scope," said Los Angeles Assemblywoman Karen Bass.

State workers are outraged that they would fight the cuts.

They've effectively taken a 15 percent salary reduction when they were ordered to take three unpaid furlough days.

"I'm barely hanging on to the roof over my head, the car I'm driving; I can't fill my refrigerator up. My kids look at me and say, 'What happened, mom?'" said state worker Debra Endres.

"If it's illegal for them, why was is it not illegal for them to take 15 percent of our pay? We had no choice," said another state worker Marie Schmidt.

A source who was heavily involved in writing the initiative that created the commission says that the legislature may be right. Commissioners can cut pay but not for the reasons they cited.

At the time, they cited the state's budget crisis.

Under the law, they're only allowed to look at comparable government agencies and the private sector but not the state's bank account.

The Attorney General is expected to rule soon.


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