SACRAMENTO, Calif. – A citizens' commission on Friday cited California's improving economy as it approved 2 percent cost-of-living salary increases for lawmakers and statewide officials, including the governor and attorney general.
The increases to take effect in December are the second consecutive annual pay raises approved by the California Citizens Compensation Commission. A year ago, commissioners voted to give raises of about 5 percent, restoring the wages for top elected officials to 2011 levels.
The latest raises will increase the pay of rank-and-file lawmakers — already the highest in the nation — to $97,197. Legislators also are eligible for a $163 daily cost-of-living allowance but do not get pensions.
During the recent recession, the commission cut lawmakers' pay by 18 percent and eliminated their use of state-owned vehicles.
"I believe the governor and the legislators, if they get tarred when times are tough, they ought to get at least some credit when things are improving," commissioner Scott Somers said.
He had argued unsuccessfully for bigger increases, including 3 percent for statewide officials, 5 percent for Assembly members and 8 percent for state senators because they represent more constituents.
"The fiscal health is much stronger," said commissioner Nancy Miller, who had unsuccessfully sought a 5 percent across-the-board increase.
Commissioners finally agreed to the 2 percent cost-of-living increases, the same amount approved for state managers that will take effect when the new fiscal year starts next month.
The seven-member commission supported the 2 percent increase on a 4-1 vote, with one seat vacant and one member absent.
The lone "no" vote was by Anthony Barkett.
"We raised taxes, that's why we have the money" that has bolstered the state's budget, Barkett said. Moreover, he said voters approved sales and income tax increases in 2012 because they were told the money generally would go to education.
"The economy is better. It's much better in some areas, it's not much better in a lot of areas, not in the Central Valley for instance," Barkett said, urging commissioners to wait at least two more years to raise salaries. "As a state, I don't think we're there yet."
The commissioners are appointed by the governor. Gov. Jerry Brown is currently paid about $174,000 a year, well below the $212,179 peak salary paid to former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2008 before the commission began cutting officials' compensation. The governor's annual salary will rise to $177,467 next year.
Commissioners said that still trails salaries paid to several mayors across California, while lawmakers' pay is lower than that of some city councils and county supervisors.
The salary for the California state attorney general, the state's chief law enforcement officer, will increase from $151,127 to $154,150.
California's legislative salaries are trailed by Pennsylvania, which pays its lawmakers $84,012 a year plus $157 a day for their expenses, according to a survey this year by the National Conference of State Legislatures. New York was third, paying $79,500 plus $172 for daily expenses.
At the low end, New Hampshire legislators receive a $100 base salary, while New Mexico lawmakers get no salary and $159 a day for expenses.
California considers being a legislator to be a full-time job, though they meet in Sacramento about eight months of the year. Many other state legislatures meet infrequently, sometimes every other year.
"The commission is independent and legislators accept their decisions however they adjust the salaries," said Will Shuck, a spokesman for Assembly Democrats. Spokesmen for Brown and other officials did not immediately comment.
The commission was created by voters in 1990 when they approved Proposition 112. It sets salaries and benefits for state lawmakers and the eight constitutional officers elected statewide, as well as for members of the Board of Equalization, which deals with a wide range of tax issues.