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California and the West

Pay Hikes for Top Officials Will Stand

Raises: Increases of 26% to 34% anger state employees, others. But compensation commission calls vote 'final.'

March 29, 1998|CARL INGRAM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — Despite a public outcry, the chairman of a commission that approved near-record pay raises for the governor and other officials said Saturday there is virtually no chance the increases will be reconsidered.

"We take a vote and it's final. I don't see how we could reconsider it," said Claude Brinegar, chairman of the state Citizens Compensation Commission.

The commission approved the pay hikes on a 4-3 vote Thursday at a lightly attended meeting in the Bay Area city of Brisbane.

The governor's pay on Dec. 7 will soar from $131,000 to $165,000 a year; members of the Legislature will see their pay mushroom from $78,624 to $99,000. Other top state officials also received substantial boosts, ranging from 26% to 34%.

To reconsider the issue, at least one commissioner who voted for the raises would have to reverse course, a development Brinegar said probably will not occur.

Brinegar, a retired oil industry executive who opposed the raises, said the four commissioners who voted yes "all knew that it would likely be unpopular."

"These were pretty determined votes," he said, and would be difficult to reverse.

The commission, created by the voters in 1990 to depoliticize the setting of salaries of elected top officials, must examine compensation issues at least once a year.

In its first year, the commission startled virtually everybody by awarding a 37% increase to all officials under its authority, a record that stands.

Gov. Pete Wilson, who appointed some members of the commission, already is the best-paid governor in the nation and will receive about three weeks of salary at the higher rate before he leaves office in January. The higher pay also will boost his pension from $52,000 to $66,000 a year.

For legislators, the higher pay will be in addition to the approximately $30,000 they receive tax-free each year for living expenses. Other benefits include unlimited gasoline and telephone credit cards, state-supplied automobiles, paid car insurance and generous pensions for longtime legislators.

The latest pay raises, which also apply for the lieutenant governor, attorney general, superintendent of public instruction, controller, secretary of state and treasurer, have touched off anger, particularly from state employees who have gone without a pay increase for three years.

Hundreds of protest calls filled the switchboards of Wilson and the state Department of Personnel Administration, whose leaders negotiate work contracts with state employee unions.

Union members have charged Wilson with breaking a promise to provide a 3% pay raise this year and have accused him of bargaining in bad faith at stalled contract talks.

"Given his antipathetic attitude toward public employees, you'd never guess that he had been on the public payroll his entire adult life," said Carol Jarstad, a state Department of Justice attorney in Los Angeles.

Jarstad, a union member, complained that in pay issues the playing field is tilted in favor of the governor and against state employees. For instance, she noted that commission members are appointees of the governor. Also, the commission's staff is part of the Department of Administration, which the governor controls.

Peter Strom, a commission staffer, said phone calls poured into the Department of Administration on the heels of the commission's vote. He said the calls appeared to be evenly divided between state employees and other citizens.

"A typical call is, 'Gee, I don't get 25% raises, why should they?' " Strom said.

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