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GOP's Assembly Staff Pay: It's the Same Old Story : Republicans are just as free with raises as Democrats were

June 11, 1996

When the Republicans won control of the Assembly in 1994 after more than a quarter-century without the perks of majority power, they promised to run things differently from what they derisively called Willie Brown's "imperial speakership." Yet Speaker Curt Pringle and other new GOP leaders have continued Sacramento's long and bipartisan tradition of rewarding--often lavishly--party loyalists, campaign workers and assorted friends and relatives with staff jobs and pay raises.

A Times analysis of payroll data found that more than 300 staffers received raises averaging in excess of 30% during the first 18 months of Republican dominance in the Assembly. A select few received boosts that added from 50% to 200%. Scores took home much fatter paychecks at a time when most California workers, including state Civil Service employees, were receiving only modest raises.

Republican leaders attribute this excessive generosity to equity and fair play. They insist that the raises simply brought their underpaid staffers to the high levels of Democratic staffers who were handsomely rewarded under Brown, a master of patronage and the political spoils system.

No doubt some GOP staffers deserved increases, especially those who took on much greater responsibility after the Republican ascendancy in the Assembly and those who had been earning far less than their Democratic counterparts. Reasonable raises would have been appropriate, but an increase like the one that went to a chief consultant to Assemblyman Brian Setencich (R-Fresno)--a boggling 210% (to $108,408)--can't possibly seem fair to the taxpayers, who, after all, pay that salary. Nor can equity explain back-to-back raises of 12% and 32% in two months to another staffer. Some Republicans gave staff members retroactive raises, which resulted in bonus-like payments and lump-sum windfalls, even though such increases are generally prohibited by the state Constitution.

When the Assembly changed hands, Republicans promised to run the lower house more like a business than their free-spending Democratic predecessors. Philosophically, most advocated downsizing government, cutting spending and reducing bureaucracy. Their salary practices, though a Sacramento tradition, do not reflect standard business practices. The voters aren't likely to forget those big raises in November.

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