Governor, Lawmakers Will Receive a 3 Percent Pay Hike

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Gov. Jerry Brown, seen here on Apr. 28 in Sacramento, will get a salary boost in December under action taken on May 11. (John Myers/KQED)

To hear members of the panel that sets California lawmaker salaries tell it, this may be the last year of the traditional across-the-board decision to either boost or cut the paychecks of top officials.

The unanimous 4-0 vote of the California Citizens Compensation Commission to raise the salary of Gov. Jerry Brown and top state officials came on Monday after a robust discussion about separating the executive branch's pay rates from those of the Legislature.

"My opinion is that some of the state officers deserve a little bit higher raise than the Assembly and the Senate," said Commissioner Anthony Burkett.

Nonetheless, the panel gave all state lawmakers -- from the governor to the attorney general and down to rank-and-file legislators -- a 3 percent annual increase, beginning in December. The commission also rescinded a 10 percent cut in health, dental and vision benefits to top officials imposed during the recession; those rates will now be equal to the benefits paid for managerial state employees.

Salary levels for governor, attorney general and legislators approved on May 11 by the California Citizens Compensation Commission.
Salary levels for governor, attorney general and legislators approved on May 11 by the California Citizens Compensation Commission. (John Myers/KQED)

Gov. Brown's annual salary will rise to $182,791 a year, while legislators will see base pay rise to $100,112 a year (more for legislative leaders). The panel also set new, higher salaries for lieutenant governor, attorney general, controller, treasurer, secretary of state, insurance commissioner, superintendent of public instruction and leadership positions in the Legislature.


But it was clear that the panel, with three vacancies and able to take action only after Brown appointed a new member last week, wants to rethink its tried-and-true practice of moving all salaries up or down in unison.

"I think a discussion is warranted about what we think is reasonable compensation for each one of these elected officials, separate from treating them as a group," said Commissioner Burkett.

Commissioners pointed to data showing that a number of officials on the local level in California -- from supervisors to district attorneys in the largest counties -- continue to be paid much more than the governor and attorney general.

But no one wanted to go that far on top-level salaries, at least not yet.

"I think because you're talking about some significant increases to a particular position, that has ramifications in the press, in the public," said Commissioner Nancy Miller.

The commission's decision comes in the wake of last year's 2 percent salary increase for top state officials, but after larger cutbacks in two consecutive years during the recession.

Legislators in California, who are also eligible for $142 a day per diem while in Sacramento, have been the best paid in the nation for several years running (though many legislatures in other states are part-time bodies, not year-round as in the Golden State). And there was little support for linking lawmakers' salary to the state's expected fiscal surplus, unlike the linkage in years past to budget deficits.

"When there is a deficit," said commission chairman Thomas Dalzell, "I think we have an obligation as a matter, if nothing else, of symbolism."

Still, commissioners expressed concern about the pay rates of the governor and attorney general vis-a-vis local officials, and a desire for a new methodology, perhaps as soon as their annual meeting in 2016.

"I think it's a restructuring that probably has a lot of merit," said Dalzell.