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California lawmakers take 5-percent pay cut

May 31, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Governor Jerry Brown is getting a pay cut. So is every other elected official in California. A special panel announced 5-percent pay cuts Thursday and reaction has been swift.

Voters empowered the California Citizens Compensation Commission in 1990 to set the salaries of state politicians.

Thursday, members approved the 5-percent pay cut for not only lawmakers, but also the governor and other statewide elected officials. It will save less than $700,000 a year, miniscule considering the state budget deficit is at $16 billion.

The governor himself proposed a 5-percent pay cut to state workers.

"It'll send a message that we have to move on," said Citizens Compensation Commissioner Charles Murray. "We have to get out of this hole. Everybody has to sacrifice."

For the average rank-and-file lawmaker, their pay will go down $5,000 to just over $90,000 a year.

The 5-percent pay cut is on top of an 18-percent pay cut lawmakers received in 2009. The latest one will take effect in December. But they will still get their tax-free $142-a-day per diem for living expenses while in Sacramento.

Some lawmakers feel when you have to maintain two households and travel back and forth, it's not enough.

Single mom and state Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell is of modest means and says only wealthy people will run for office.

"Continued reduction in our salary is going to make it tough for women like me to be public servants," said Assm. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles).

Some feel the pay cut is punitive. They've already lost their state cars this year. Others accept it as a sign of the times.

"I think it is fair for us as legislators to show leadership at this time and do what we can," said Assm. Susan Bonilla (D-Concord).

Governor Brown is OK with his pay cut to $165,000 per year since he can apparently live on what he calls "psychic income."

"I'd run for governor whether it was a paid job or not," said Brown. "I derive a lot of psychic income."

The Commission says California lawmakers will still earn the highest salary of all state legislators in the country. But when you consider their total compensation, which does not include a pension, they're no longer at the top.


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