Lawmakers reconsider taking pay cuts

November 6, 2009 5:54:18 PM PST
Lawmakers in Sacramento who slashed the pay of state employees are resisting cuts to their own salaries.

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While state lawmakers are in Sacramento, they receive roughly $35,000 in per diem a year for living expenses tax free and that's on top of their six-figure salaries.

The Independent Citizen Compensation Commission voted earlier this year to slash both by 18 percent. The per diem cut starts next month and the pay cut next December.

"No one likes to have their pay cut, but given the realities of our economics and so on, if it is their wisdom that that's what we should do, then I'm going to do that," said St. Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco.

For rank-and-file lawmakers, their salaries would go from $116,000 to $95,000 a year. But now there is a move to block the cuts because they might be illegal.

"Our legislative counsel did ask for an opinion from the attorney general as to whether or not what the commission did was in their scope," said Karen Bass, D-Assembly Speaker.

State workers are outraged they would fight the cuts. They've effectively taken a 15 percent salary reduction when they were ordered to take three unpaid furlough days.

"I'm barely hanging on to the roof over my head, the car I'm driving, I can't fill my refrigerator up. My kids look at me and say, 'What happened, mom?" said state worker Debra Endres.

"If it's illegal for them, why was it not illegal for them to take 15 percent of our pay? We had no choice," said state worker Marie Schmidt.

A source who was heavily involved in writing the initiative that created the commission says the Legislature may be right. Commissioners can cut pay, but not for the reasons they cited.

At the time, they cited the state's budget crisis. Under the law, they're only allowed to look at comparable government agencies and the private sector, not the state's bank account.

The attorney general is expected to rule soon.

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