The Bay Area News Group said Sunday that 61 percent of small cities and 47 percent of school districts in its survey provided full-time health care benefits last year to its elected leaders, many of whom only attend meetings once or twice a month.
By contrast, one in four private employers offers health benefits to part-time employees, according to an annual survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
The cities that offered full-time coverage spent an average $8,508 per official on health benefits or cash payments in 2010, more the average $8,037 the officials received in base pay, according to the report.
"The only reason there isn't more outrage is that most people aren't aware of this," said Kris Vosburgh, who heads the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. "It amounts to a gift of public funds, a theft from taxpayers."
But elected officials such as San Mateo City Councilman David Lim say the benefits serve as an incentive for people to run for public office.
"You want everyone to have the opportunity to run for office," said Lim, who last year declined San Mateo's full health care plan but received $2,823 from a city-paid flexible medical spending account. "I don't know anybody who does this for the money."
Critics say cash-strapped government agencies can't afford such generous benefits when depressed revenue and budget shortfalls are forcing cuts in jobs and services.
"It's not right," said Modesto Mayor Jim Ridenour, the president of the League of California Cities, who doesn't receive city benefits even though his elected position is considered full-time.
Part-time elected officials "need to get paid something," he said, but "I just don't agree that we should get health insurance