Sunday, July 22, 2012

California Democrats Give Pay Raises to Assembly and Senate Staff, While Voters Being Asked for Tax Hikes in November

The Democrats control both chambers of the legislature, and I'm betting they don't expect repercussions from this decidedly bad political move. And since the reports came out, the Senate pay raises have been put on hold. But that's not cooled some of the public outrage, and the Assembly pay hikes are still going through.

At the Los Angeles Times, "Lawmakers give raises to aides before cutting other workers' pay":
SACRAMENTO — Lawmakers gave raises worth $4.6 million annually to more than 1,000 of their aides before cutting the pay of most other state workers, newly released records show.

The lawmakers said they were trying to make up for several years without staff pay increases.

"Modest adjustments based on individual performance were appropriate," after pay and hiring freezes during the previous four years, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) said in a statement.

But the raises, at least 10% for some top staffers in the last 11 months, have been disclosed at an awkward time for Steinberg and his fellow Democrats, who control the Legislature. They are gearing up to help Gov. Jerry Brown to convince the public that the state is desperate for money in the aftermath of a deep recession and should pass billions of dollars in tax hikes in November.

Opponents of the governor's tax plan wasted no time in painting the Democrats as hypocrites.

"It's an outrage that they did this when the governor is asking voters to approve a tax initiative because he says we can't pay our bills," said Lew Uhler, head of the California-based National Tax Limitation Committee.

And state workers hit with a 4.62% pay cut to help balance California's budget were enraged by news of the raises.

"My membership is reeling from it,'' said Rocco Paternoster, executive director of the 7,000-member Assn. of California State Supervisors. "It's really a slap in the face not only [to] the employees but also the public."

He said a flood of angry emails from workers is believed to have contributed to the crashing of the group's website Thursday.

A spokesman for Steinberg said he would seek a pay freeze for the Senate staff during the current fiscal year. An Assembly spokesman said the lower house had no such plan.

Assembly Speaker John A. PĂ©rez (D-Los Angeles) declined to comment on the raises in his chamber since Dec. 1, 2011. Most of the them were given to Assembly workers who had not received any in at least three years, said Jon Waldie, chief administrative officer of the lower house.

Records requested by The Times indicate that at least 1,090 staffers in the Legislature received raises during the last fiscal year. More than 110 of those were earning six-figure salaries; 13 now make more than the $173,987 paid to Brown.

The highest-paid aide to receive a raise was Christopher Woods, chief budget consultant for the Assembly speaker. Woods' pay grew 3.6%, to $193,476. Catherine Abernathy, chief of staff for Assemblywoman Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield), received 37%, for a salary of $65,832 a year, after taking on additional duties.

Raises and promotions went to 533 Assembly staffers at an annual cost of $3.1 million, according to a Times analysis. About 200 employees changed jobs, with the vast majority of those — 163 workers — seeing at least a 10% bump in pay.
Unemployment's still over 10 percent, although that's down from nearly 12 percent a year ago. See Governing, "Jobless Rates Rise as California, Ohio, North Carolina Add Most Jobs." Either way, I don't think Democrats can justify these pay raises, but we'll see. It's up to the voters in the respective districts.