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Slamming the Door

July 27, 1986

Paul Gann may have surpassed his previous pernicious capacity--including Proposition 13--for raining damage down on government in California when he concocted his latest initiative measure, the so-called California Fair Pay Amendment on the November ballot. The extent of potential harm is difficult to assess because, as is usual with Gann, the initiative is filled with ambiguities and conflicting language.

There is no doubt, however, that Proposition 61 would turn California into a second-class, or no-class, state when it comes to the public services that the people demand, expect and deserve.

Proposition 61 would put a constitutional limit of $80,000 a year on the governor's salary, $52,500 for other statewide officeholders and $64,000 for every other appointed public official in California. Elected officials' pay could be changed only by a vote of the people. For appointed state officials it would take a two-thirds vote of the Legislature.

Extensive court action would be needed to sort out just what it would do. Gann, for example, would specifically limit "salaries" of the governor and other state officials but "compensation" for local officeholders and appointed state officials. Does compensation include health, retirement and other employment benefits? If so, the effective salary lid might be as low as the $40,000 range.

Many officials already are planning early retirement to preserve their pension benefits, which usually are based on final salary levels. A provision requiring officials to use up all accrued vacation and sick leave by Dec. 31 could cost billions if workers are permitted to cash it in. Otherwise, critical positions could go vacant for weeks.

Even ignoring such issues, the effect of Proposition 61 would be devastating. The minute the measure passed, if it did, California would have removed itself from the market for professional talent in almost any conceivable public venture. Where would University of California medical schools get their top teachers with a salary lid of $64,000? Where would UC and the California State University find outstanding administrators or, for that matter, Nobel-level faculty members or teachers for engineering schools? How good would prosecutors be? Or police administrators, fire officials, library and museum directors? What sort of a school superintendent could you get for $64,000?

California's public institutions have a well-earned reputation for excellence and innovation. That is not so just because of the state's benign weather or the scenery. But even at current salary levels it is difficult to attract the most-qualified people to government. And while the state and local governments struggle to remain competitive with private enterprise, many of the best people are lured away by higher salaries. With the Gann salary ax, there would be no competition.

Only now is California discovering the harm caused the state by Proposition 13 and the Gann limits on state government. The havoc to be un-leashed by Proposition 61 would be instant and capricious. Direct savings for the taxpayer through the salary cuts would be minimal. The long-range cost to California would be incalculable. Proposition 61 would slam the door to the Golden State to anyone who is interested in making California truly the land of the future.

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