Lew Uhler Quoted in The Sacramento Bee – California Assembly employees get pay hikes

Published Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2011

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — More than 250 Assembly employees received pay hikes this month under the sweeping authorization granted by Assembly Speaker John A. Perez recently for aides whose pay had not

risen in three years.

Roughly one of every five employees of the lower house received the merit increase ranging from 3.6 percent to 5 percent, records show.

Of 258 aides whose salaries were sweetened, 24 percent of them are paid less than $50,000; 56 percent are paid between $50,000 and $100,000; and 20 percent have salaries above $100,000, records show.

Forty-three other employees received promotions or assumed new job responsibilities that provided heftier paychecks as well.

The Assembly raises come on the heels of larger salary increases granted by the Senate – averaging 7 percent – to at least 169 employees.

Both houses contend the pay hikes are a small accommodation to valuable employees who have gone years without a wage or cost-of-living increase.

“It’s critically important in difficult budget times to have people with the knowledge and experience to tackle the state’s complicated budget issues,” said Robin Swanson, spokeswoman for Perez.

The increases cumulatively will cost the Assembly more than $800,000 per year.

The pay hikes come at a time when the state projects a budget deficit of about $12 billion through June 2013, however. Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic legislative leaders are pushing for a ballot measure to increase taxes.

Lew Uhler, president of the National Tax Limitation Committee, said voters are not likely to forget legislative salary increases if they’re called upon to vote on taxes.

“All that this kind of conduct signals to the individual voter, the taxpayer, is that government is no longer in sync with the people who pay the bills,” Uhler said.

Swanson disagreed, saying that voters understand that it’s important to retain knowledgeable aides whose expertise could draw higher salaries if they left the Capitol.

Jon Waldie, Assembly administrator, said that many of the aides receiving pay hikes this month had gone five years without receiving them – so a 3.6 percent increase for the highest-paid recipients translates to less than 1 percent per year.

Waldie is the highest-paid Assembly aide to receive a pay hike, bringing his salary to $181,200.

Fifty-three people who earn six-figure salaries received pay increases, including 20 key consultants or aides assigned to the 52-member Democratic Caucus; nine key employees of the Republican Caucus; and four officials of the Rules Committee, the Assembly’s administrative division.

Waldie said that most of the employees receiving salary increases are caucus or Assembly support staff, rather than lawmakers’ personal aides.

Perez made no distinction between six-figure wage earners and lower-paid aides in qualifying for a raise, but lower-paid employees received the highest percentage increases.

The pay hikes were not automatic: Lawmakers or Assembly officials could opt not to request them for eligible employees.

Perez’s authorization will extend throughout 2012, so more employees may receive wage hikes if they reach a milestone, in coming months, in which their pay has not increased for three years.

Sabrina Lockhart, spokeswoman for the GOP Republican Caucus, said the pay increases can be handled within the existing Assembly budget, due partly to holding positions vacant or consolidating duties.

“The bottom line is that we’re continuing to operate within our existing budget while finding other ways to save money and invest in dedicated staff,” Lockhart said.

The Assembly voluntarily has cut its budget more than 15 percent this year, transferring more than $23 million of its $146.7 million budget to ease the fiscal crunch on other state agencies.

The budgets of the Assembly and Senate, unlike other state agencies, are largely immune from mandatory cuts in times of economic distress.

Voter passage of Proposition 140 in 1990 cut lawmakers’ spending immediately and imposed a funding formula covering every year thereafter.

Maximum funding is determined by adjusting prior-year spending to recognize changes in population and per capita income.

The formula paid off as California’s economy boomed and has helped both houses avoid massive furloughs or deep salary cuts during recessionary years.

(Jon Ortiz and Micaela Massimino of The Bee Capitol Bureau contributed to this report.)

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