SACRAMENTO — At the urging of business leaders, California's governor, legislators and other top state elected officials will get to keep pay raises that range from 26% to 34%, a citizens salary commission decided Thursday.
The seven-member state Citizens Compensation Commission, which approved the raises March 26 and touched off a firestorm of criticism, stuck to its guns by a one-vote margin--the same margin with which it originally acted.
The near-record increases will take effect as scheduled Dec. 7.
The commission, however, agreed that state employees, who have gone without a pay raise for three years, need one now.
The commission will send an advisory letter to Gov. Pete Wilson and legislative leaders endorsing state workers' demands for a pay increase. Workers are seeking at least a 6% pay boost from the Legislature.
The raises approved by the commission last month particularly stung state employees, who said they didn't begrudge the increases but wanted fair treatment from Wilson, who promised them a 3% pay raise last year.
The commission in March gave the governor, legislators and certain other top elected officials a 26% pay raise, boosting the governor's salary from $131,000 to $165,000 a year, the highest in the nation.
Lawmakers' salaries went from $78,624 to $99,000 a year, the highest in the country. Other officials, such as the treasurer and controller, received 34% raises, bringing their salaries to $132,000 annually.
Commission Chairman Claude Brinegar, a retired oil company executive who cast the dissenting vote on the issue originally--calling the raises "excessive and without any special justification"--had called for Thursday's meeting.
He was stung by criticism that the commission's March action occurred at a sparsely attended meeting in the San Francisco suburb of Burlingame, with scant public notice that the salary increases would be on the agenda.
This time, the commission met at a state office auditorium, the audience was large, and many offered testimony. But four commissioners still wanted the raises and three didn't.
The commission--appointed by Wilson--turned down Brinegar's motion to rescind the salary increases and defeated his "compromise" to reduce the raises to 10%-12%.
Commission members who favor the raises contend that the higher pay is needed to bring the salaries of state leaders more in line with the salaries of local officials in urban regions of California.
They also said higher salaries will attract higher quality candidates in a state whose economy is the seventh biggest in the world.
"[California] is about a $60-billion to $70-billion corporation, and you wouldn't consider paying the chief executive officer of a corporation that large the amount of money paid to the governor," testified Bill Hauck, a former assistant to Wilson who now is president of the California Business Roundtable. He testified Thursday.
Hauck was joined by other business leaders including Allan Zaremberg, president of the California Chamber of Commerce, and a parade of former legislators.
Union representatives, demanding that other state employees be treated equitably, noted that Wilson and the Legislature routinely ignore the legal requirement to enact a new state budget by the July 1 deadline.
"How can you justify raising their salaries for breaking the law?" shouted a woman in the audience.
Another opponent, Richard Gann, president of an anti-tax organization known as Paul Gann's Citizens Committee, asserted that the commission had contributed to a public loss of trust in government.
He said he has filed a proposed ballot initiative for the year 2000 that would roll back legislative salaries and limit cost of living increases. He had offered to hold up qualifying the initiative if the commission backed off on the raises.
A spokesman for Wilson, who will receive three weeks of the pay raise before leaving office next January, said it would be inappropriate for the governor to comment on the commission's refusal to modify the raises. Last month, Wilson's spokesman endorsed the increases.