Most California lawmakers receiving full salaries

The Sacramento BeeJune 8, 2009 

Nothing in California law says legislators have to sink with the ship of state — and a forced pay cut this year is unconstitutional, so sacrifice is a person-by-person decision.

Most say no, state records show.

Four of every five lawmakers are accepting full pay of $116,208 in a year of multibillion-dollar deficit, major program cuts and mandatory salary reductions for state workers.

Larry Gerston, a political science professor at San Jose State University, said voters want lawmakers to look in the mirror as they tackle a $24.3 billion shortfall.

"The perception is that legislators aren't doing their job," Gerston said. "Right or wrong, that's the perception. So take it one step further: If you're not doing your job, why am I paying you?"

The Senate and Assembly are committed to reducing their operating expenses through June 2010, but they have no control over pay of their elected members, which is set by an independent commission.

Besides salary, lawmakers are entitled to about $35,000 annually in tax-free per diem for living expenses, plus use of a leased vehicle, with gasoline and maintenance. Seventeen legislators have rejected the car and six have turned down per diem.

Mark DiCamillo, Field Poll director, said lawmakers' record-low approval rating of 14 percent is due largely to public anger over the budget mess, not to lawmakers' decisions about sharing pain.

But voters undoubtedly would applaud a voluntary pay cut, he said.

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