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California and the West

Raises OKd for Top State Officials; Davis Rejects His

Finances: Attorney general, lieutenant governor, controller and others get 6.1% hike. But commission refuses a blanket increase for legislators.

March 17, 2000|CARL INGRAM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — A state salary commission Thursday approved a 6.1% raise for Gov. Gray Davis and other top state officials starting Dec. 4, but refused a blanket increase for members of the Legislature.

Davis immediately issued a statement saying he would reject the increase, which would raise the governor's pay from $165,000 to $175,000 a year, second highest in the nation behind Gov. George Pataki of New York, who is paid $179,000.

"I appreciate the confidence in the office of the governor expressed today by the [commission], but I respectfully decline to accept the pay raise," said Davis, who accepts only 95% of his current salary as a symbolic demonstration of his fiscal conservatism.

A spokeswoman declined to elaborate, saying, "The statement speaks for itself."

The California Citizens Compensation Commission also approved the same 6.1% hike for other elected officials, ranging from the attorney general to members of the tax-collecting state Board of Equalization.

The commission ruled out an across-the-board hike for state legislators, who at $99,000 a year are the highest paid in the nation.

"I think the Legislature and the governor are overpaid," announced commissioner Nicholas Bavaro, a Modesto employee benefits consultant.

In approving what commission members called "modest" increases, the panel seemed eager to avoid a replay of the statewide controversy ignited in 1998 when it voted near-record pay raises, ranging from 26% to 34%, for the governor, lawmakers and other elected statewide officials.

The generous increases went down especially badly with state employees, who had not received pay raises under then-Gov. Pete Wilson for three years. Last year, Davis and the Legislature approved a "catch-up" 9.5% raise for the civil service work force.

But commission Chairman Claude Brinegar, a retired oil company executive, told fellow commissioners Thursday that a "modest" increase was in order because "we should try to keep the salaries up with the times." He cautioned against approving a "big one."

The commission, whose members were appointed by Wilson, approved the boost on a 5-2 vote. Bavaro and commissioner Johnny Zamrzla, a Lancaster roofing contractor, voted no.

Starting Dec. 4, these officials will have the following salaries: lieutenant governor, $131,250; attorney general and superintendent of public instruction, $148,750; controller, treasurer and insurance commissioner, $140,000, secretary of state and members of the state Board of Equalization, $131,250.

No one advocated a raise for members of the state Senate and Assembly, whose pay was boosted from $78,624 to $99,000 by the commission two years ago.

"They are well paid by national standards," Brinegar said of the California lawmakers.

The commission did not reject legislative increases entirely. It kept the salary of the Assembly speaker and president pro tem of the Senate, both Democrats, at $113,850 but agreed to increase the pay of the Senate and Assembly Republican floor leaders from $106,425 to $113,850.

It also raised the salaries of the two GOP caucus heads, the party's No. 2 leaders, to $106,425, the same currently paid to the Democratic floor leaders of each house.

The commission was created in 1990 after the Legislature and voters approved a far-reaching political reform law, which stripped the Legislature of the controversial power to set salaries.

The board, whose members are appointed by the governor, has approved pay raises with regularity over the past decade. It first boosted salaries by a record 37%. At the time lawmakers were paid $40,816 and the governor received $85,000.

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