Lawmakers paid, budget crisis continues

SACRAMENTO For many employees, no work means no pay. That may not be the case for state lawmakers.

California is now 10 weeks into the fiscal year without a budget. Yet lawmakers are still getting their six-figure salaries and collecting a $170-per-day tax-free per diem to cover the expenses of maintaining a second residence in Sacramento.

While lawmakers do not see the money until a budget is passed, they are running up a tab until payday.

"They are, in effect, getting paid a bonus for staying in session longer because they didn't get the job done when it needed to be done," said Derek Cressman, Common Cause.

"Session" is loosely defined. Lawmakers could meet on the floor, or just check in with the clerk while the chambers sit empty. Normal per diem can total $35,000; everything after August is gravy.

"If the Legislature isn't meeting on the floor, doesn't mean there aren't many meetings taking place, many conversations to try to bring a resolution to the budget," said State Senator Roy Ashburn (R-Bakersfield).

"We're working just like anybody else works. We are here, and we have to have second households," said State Senator Denise Ducheny (D-San Diego).

Some lawmakers think there should be some sort of punishment for a late state budget.

"I agree. I think there has to be some kind of carrot and stick," said Assemblyman Mike Villines (R-Minority Leader).

When asked if Villines is taking his per diem, he replied, "I haven't decided. I just don't know the answer to that."

Most lawmakers are not turning away the pay. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-California) has publicly scolded them for taking the money as state services are struggling to stay afloat without funding.

"They're even collecting per diem every day when they go to the Capitol, of $1000 a week tax-free! Think about that, and you guys have to suffer here," said Governor Schwarzenegger.

A small group of lawmakers from both parties is rejecting their per diem pay during the budget impasse. Those lawmakers include Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) and State Senator Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana) .

However, there are lawmakers who live close enough to the Capitol to drive it every day. They still, legally, accept their per diem.


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