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He's at It Again

November 24, 1985

Paul Gann is seeking to handcuff California government again through the initiative-petition process. This time the co-author of Proposition 13 is going after the salaries of both elected and appointed public officials. His initiative would, among other things, limit by state constitutional amendment the salary of the governor to $80,000 a year and of other elected statewide officials to $52,500. That idea is bound to have plenty of appeal among government-bashers and, on the surface, may not seem too unreasonable except that the idea of writing salaries into the Constitution is poppycock.

The governor now gets $49,100, and most other statewide officers $42,500. Those figures are to increase in 1987 to $85,000 and $72,500.

But the limit on the elected state officials is only a minor part of the new Gann initiative. It would require a statewide vote to raise any state official's salary. Worst of all, it would limit compensation for all other state officials and all city and county officeholders and appointees to 80% of the governor's salary, or a maximum of $64,000. Although the initiative does not specify the offices, it apparently would include justices of the state Supreme Court, all mayors and city managers, all county supervisors and county administrative officers, the president of the University of California, the chancellor of the California State University system, doctors at state hospitals and other facilities and so on.

All city, county and special district salaries would have to be approved by the voters. And the $64,000 limit would include any public pension money that the official receives. For instance, if a city administrator received $20,000 in Army retirement pay, he could get no more than $44,000 from the city. Even an increase to offset inflation would need voter approval.

The limit on top elected officials might not have a major effect on the ability to attract competent office seekers. Candidates for those offices usually are not in the political game just for the money. But the effect on the rest of government would be devastating. Imagine trying to attract top candidates for the presidency of the University of California for $64,000 a year or, for that matter, a doctor at a UC teaching hospital. Or see if a major city or county could lure a top-rank municipal administrator, particularly from anywhere else in the country where living costs are much lower.

If he gets the required 630,136 signatures, Gann can qualify his initiative for the November, 1986, ballot. Gann calls his proposal the "California Fair Pay Amendment." A better title would be the "Mediocrity in Government Amendment." The best way to defeat this noxious proposal is to not let it get on the ballot in the first place. Just don't sign.

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