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Why Christmas Comes Early in the California Capitol
by K. Lloyd Billingsley 12/19/07

Christmas came early for California's legislators in the form of pay raises that speak to a neglected aspect of California's government. That aspect is not low pay.  

The increase of $3,110, effective December 3, brings legislative salaries to $116,208, highest of all 50 states, which they were even before the raise. The raise increases California’s legislative pay to $30,000 beyond the level of any other state, though, strictly speaking, California legislators did not raise their own salaries. In 1990, Proposition 112 created an independent citizens commission that approved the current hike of 2.75 percent five months ago. The commission saw fit to nearly double that in some cases.

K. Lloyd Billingsley
[Courtesty of Pacific Research Institute]

K. Lloyd Billingsley is Editorial Director for the Pacific Research Institute and has been widely published on topics including on popular culture, defense policy, education reform, and many other current policy issues. [go to Billingsley index]

California's Attorney General Jerry Brown, a former governor and mayor of Oakland, will receive an increase of five percent, bringing his salary to $184,301. So will State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell. According to news reports, their higher raise is based on comparable pay in their fields. Comparable pay is not the same as performance criteria, and none of the raises seem based on that.

Indeed, as press accounts note, the raise takes effect at a time when California’s projected budget deficit is $10 billion. Legislators were not able to eliminate that deficit and put the state on a sound financial footing. Yet they received a pay increase anyway.             

Legislators were also unable to pass any meaningful health-care reform, even though some reforms, such as fair tax treatment for health savings accounts, would not require any additional spending. Some measures remain on the table that would indeed require new taxes and spending.

The pay hike for state education boss Jack O’Connell seems particularly unrelated to performance. As PRI’s Rachel Chaney noted in this column, Superintendent O’Connell recently participated in a conference on a racial achievement gap. As Dan Walters of the Sacramento Bee pointed out, the real achievement gap is between California and other states. California is a bottom feeder and as PRI pointed out in Not as Good as You Think: Why the Middle Class Needs School Choice, even the purportedly “best” schools in upscale neighborhoods fail to deliver the goods for students and parents alike. The California Department of Education has failed to prevent gross waste and failure in the Los Angeles Unified School District and statewide.

Many California school superintendents, it should be noted, receive salaries much higher than those of legislators. Those high salaries are not tied to performance either. Even teacher salaries are related more to seniority and credentials than any actual record of increasing student achievement in the classroom. Teacher and government employee unions resist the link of pay to performance.

Deficits and other issues sufficiently troubled a bipartisan group of 13 legislators who, declining to accept the pay increase, were joined by five others on December 6. However, the vast majority of legislators and state officials accepted the raise. One can’t blame them, but as Senator Abel Maldonado told the Sacramento Bee, “If you're doing it for the money, you should get out.”

Meanwhile, the independent commission that sets legislative salaries should look for ways to link pay with performance. So should California's government in general. That would offer some respect to those who pay the salaries, the hard working taxpayers of California. CRO

copyright 2007 Pacific Research Institute




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