Pointing to California's firmer fiscal footing, a panel that sets salaries for elected officials on Friday voted 4-1 to enact a pay boost. The raise will add $1,906 to lawmakers' annual $95,291 salary, giving them a yearly pay of $97,197. The raise for Gov. Jerry Brown, who makes $173,987, will be $3,480, taking him to $177,467 a year. The raises take effect Dec. 1
Years of yawning budget deficits have given way to a surplus, allowing California to pass an on-time budget this year with minimal friction. Those sunnier circumstances framed the debate among members of the California Citizens Compensation Commission.
"It would be hard to argue, I believe, that the state is not better off financially today than it was a few years ago," said commissioner Scott Somers. "If they get tarred when times are tough," he added in reference to elected officials, "they ought to at least get some credit when things are improving."
California lawmakers are the best-compensated of any state legislators. They lead the field even though their pay was cut twice during the recession, reductions that the pay commission partially reversed last year with a five percent boost. The next-largest paychecks go to legislators in Pennsylvania, who made $83,801 in 2013.
Despite earning more than their counterparts in other states, Sacramento lawmakers earn less than city and county officials in California. Members of the Los Angeles and San Francisco city councils both draw larger paychecks than state legislators, as do county supervisors in 16 separate counties.
"I think that where (members of the Legislature) are compensated is low based on all the indices that staff provided us," commissioner Nancy Miller said.
Complicating comparisons to other states and cities is the fact that California lawmakers cannot draw pensions, a prohibition voters enacted along with term limits back in 1990.
"It is very difficult to compare apples to apples for our Assembly members and senators," Somers said.
State lawmakers in New York and Ohio, for instance - both states that, like California, have full-time legislatures - receive retirement benefits, although their base salaries are lower. Lawmakers in Texas, where the part-time Legislature meets every other year, earn $7,200 in salary but are eligible for retirement money.
The sole dissenting vote came from commissioner Anthony Barkett, who repeatedly expressed reservations about acting so soon after the state has climbed out of a devastating recession. He urged members to first consider the broader question of whether the pre-recession base pay rates are appropriate.
"We raised taxes - that's why we have the money to do we've done," Barkett said, referencing the temporary tax hike enacted via Proposition 30. "We just got through a huge recession and I need a little time to make sure the economy's real."
PHOTO: Scott Somers, left, and Nancy Miller are among the members of The California Citizens Compensation Commission who voted for a 2 percent pay raise for state elected officials, Friday, June 20, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Lezlie Sterling.