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Karen Bass under fire for staff pay raises

March 5, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
In the middle of a state budget crisis, there's word outgoing Assembly Speaker Karen Bass gave staff members hefty salary hikes, just before she stepped down.Despite a pay freeze, Assembly Speaker Emeritus Karen Bass justified the roughly 10-percent pay raises to 20 staffers from the Democratic Caucus by pointing out they were promoted and given greater responsibilities.

The Los Angeles Democrat says she's already cut the Assembly budget by $42 million during her tenure.

In a statement, Bass said, "I specifically eliminated other positions that more than covered the cost of those modest increases."

The pay hikes amount to about $100,000 total a year in taxpayer money. Critics say the move looks bad in an economy where no one is getting raises.

"And for Karen Bass to do this as a kind of parting shot against taxpayers as she's walking out the door away from the Speakership is going to cause additional consternation among the people who pay the bills," said Jon Coupal, president, Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

Other Assembly members want to give raises too, but must abide by the freeze.

"My staff works hard and haven't seen raises either," said state Assemblyman Chuck DeVore (R-Irvine).

While most of the raises went to aides who made less than $50,000 a year, some senior staffers made out.

Bass bumped up one senior assistant to principal assistant, boosting her pay from $87,000 per year to $96,000.

The pay raises come at a bad time. The state still faces a multi-billion-dollar deficit and state workers continue to be furloughed three days a month, which is essentially a 15-percent pay cut.

State worker Tom Lane thought all public employees were supposed to share in the pain and is shaking his head over the different standards.

"They seem to have their own rules," said Lane. "And I think everyone is tired of them doing the things that they're doing."

A year ago, Bass had to cancel staff raises after getting a lot of public pressure.

On April 22, 2009, Bass said: "One of my top priorities is making sure I manage the people's institution effectively."

It's unlikely anything can be done now that new Assembly Speaker John Perez has taken over.