California voters will decide on May 19 if elected officials deserve pay raises in a time of economic decline.
Proposition 1F would amend the California Constitution to prevent elected state officials from receiving raises in deficit years. The measure defines deficit years as when the state’s reserve fund has a deficit larger than 1 percent of the state’s general fund revenues.
All measures on the ballot were negotiated as a package to address the state’s budget problems.
Supporters and opponents agree that the money the state would save by preventing pay raises is minute when compared with the $143 billion budget California has through 2010. Currently, a 1 percent raise in California lawmakers‘ salaries costs the state $160,000.
“It’s symbolic,” said Owen Jackman, a regional director of the California Democratic Party whose region includes the Yolo County area. “It’s a gesture to show that if you don’t do your job, you won’t get a pay raise.“
Currently, the wages and insurance benefits of high-ranking elected state officials are determined by the California Citizens Compensation Committee, which was created in 1990 as a result of Proposition 112. The committee is comprised of seven governor-appointed California citizens. None of the committee members may be current state employees.
Also in 1990, a proposition passed to prohibit California lawmakers from receiving a retirement pension.
Currently, California elected officials receive the nation’s highest lawmaker salaries starting at $116,000 a year. Governor Schwarzenegger is allowed a $212,000 salary, though he has declined to accept it. Michigan lawmakers have the second-highest elected official salaries, starting at about $79,000 a year.
The committee meets annually before Jun. 1 to determine if state lawmakers need a raise. California lawmakers have received a 17 percent increase in salaries since 2005. The governor and other top officials have received increases of almost 25 percent since 2006.
In 1972, California voters decided that lawmakers could not be subject to salary reductions during their term of office.
State lawmakers are also eligible for per diem payments, which are not decided by the committee. These payments include lodging and meals while attending legislative sessions, and a free car and gas.
Though Prop 1F was written by Representative Abel Maldonado (R-Santa Maria) the California Republican Party is opposing all measures on the May 19 ballot.
Deputy communications director of the California Republican Party Kevin Roberts said there are a lot of holes in Prop 1F.
“It’s not real reform,” he said. “It’s not going to do anything to help balance the budget year in and year out. To hold something like that is not the strong stick that some of the proponents feel that it is.“
Opponents of Prop 1F have also pointed to the fact that the state attorney general, state controller and insurance commissioner are also subject to the increase restrictions, yet are not involved with the budget-making process.
State Representative Mariko Yamada (D-Davis) said she supports Prop 1F but has reservations.
“I think the legislators should set an example in times of stress and difficulty,” said Yamada, who has declined per diem payments and the free car and gas offered to every legislator.
Yet Yamada raised concerns about the unintended consequences of the proposition, citing the lack of pension as one that may deter future Californians from running for office. California public office could attract wealthier people if 1F passes.
“Over time there is an erosion of the job,” she said. “Good people who would like to serve will not be willing to run for office.
“When this job is done in a responsible and ethical way, I think people should be compensated for what they do. But the people are angry and have every right to be.“
RONNY SMITH can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.