So imagine the outrage Tuesday, especially from 2nd-grade teacher Allyson Munsey, who received a pink slip, when she and others heard the Assembly handed out more than $200,000 in raises.
"It's disgusting, for one," said Munsey. "People are getting raises as hundreds of thousands of teachers are getting pink slips."
"It literally makes me sick because I could have at least saved one teacher at our school," said concerned Santa Clara parent Jennifer Whitaker.
New Speaker of the Assembly John Perez brought along much of his staff, promoted them and gave them raises for the increased responsibilities.
New Minority Leader Martin Garrick did too.
The largest pay bumps went to their chiefs of staff: Sara Ramirez's new salary is $190,000, a $65,000 increase. Mike Zimmerman's raise took him to $112,000, a $45,000 pay hike.
Steve Maviglio used to be a high-ranking Assembly staffer under two speakers. He says the pay has to be that high when the job is 24/7.
"Not only is she the chief of staff for the Assembly member, she's the CEO of the Assembly with multi-million-dollar budgets, thousands of employees," said Maviglio. "This kind of job in the private sector would command a salary two to three times that."
Through a spokeswoman, Perez pointed out every speaker has given out promotions and pay raises and: "He remains steadfast that the Assembly do its part by cutting its operating budget 15 percent."
But what makes Tuesday different is this recession that's forced lawmakers to slash education and social programs to balance the state budget.
The new raises come less than three weeks after Karen Bass, on her last day as speaker, doled out promotions and raises of her own, mostly to low-level staffers.
Government watchdog groups wonder why her senior aides didn't take a pay cut when she resigned as speaker.
While at an environmental summit, Governor Schwarzenegger wouldn't comment on the Assembly raises, but knows this is a bad time.
"I told my staff no one will be getting an increase for a long time because until the economy comes back, we're not going to allow any increases at all," said Schwarzenegger.
Government watchdog groups criticized former Speaker Bass for keeping her staff at higher salaries even after stepping down.