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State legislative staffers get 5-percent pay raises amid protests

July 19, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
There are questions about the timing of pay raises at the state Capitol. The state Assembly and Senate are giving staffers a bump in pay, even those making six figures. The raises come as schools and colleges brace for more possible cuts.

Lawmakers are on summer recess, so no one was around to defend the raises. A firestorm has erupted virtually unanswered.

Behind every state lawmaker is a group of staffers who schedule meetings, research issues or write policy.

Despite California's fiscal crisis, the state Senate and Assembly gave up to 5-percent pay raises to hundreds of these employees in the last year, including those who already make six figures.

"We decided based upon four years of freezing and not granting any raises that we would give modest raises," said state Senate President Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento). "And now we will go back to freezing the pay."

The Assembly had the same reasoning and pointed out it transferred $22 million of its budget last year to programs that needed the money.

Governor Brown is asking voters in November to approve a temporary tax hike on higher incomes, as well as the sales tax for everyone.

Anti-tax groups question the raises: If there's money to bump up salaries, it undermines efforts to ask for more taxes.

"They can't put enough lipstick on this pig to make it look good. At the end of the day, I think voters are going to find this outrageous," said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

And the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association wonders what good the Senate's pay-freeze order is if the raises have already been given out.

"That's tantamount to closing the vault after the bank's already been robbed," said Coupal.

The legislative staff pay raises also come at a time when other state workers' paychecks are starting to reflect a 5-percent pay cut.

"I don't think it's fair. They should take the same cuts that we take," said state worker Charmaine Jackson. "We work just like they do."

Some jobs, like student assistants, are being eliminated.

"The Capitol got 5-percent raises and look at everybody else," said student assistant Jessica Nieves.

According to a Sacramento Bee analysis, about 100 legislative employees making six figures got the raises, so now more than 300 staffers under the Capitol dome make $100,000 a year or more.