One day after elected officials in Los Angeles learned they were getting their fourth pay raise since 2005, six of the 18 said they would turn it down, while the remainder said they'd take it or did not comment.
The city's elected officials, a group that often agrees on municipal matters, diverged sharply when faced with the politically charged question of what to do with a 4.16% raise -- handed to them three months before they are to ask voters to preserve a $243-million telephone tax.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, November 17, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction
City officials' pay: A chart accompanying an article in Friday's California section about raises for Los Angeles elected officials misspelled the name of Councilwoman Wendy Greuel as Gruel.
Eight said they would accept the raise, including two who said they would give an equivalent amount to charity.
Four council members -- Richard Alarcon, Tony Cardenas, Bernard C. Parks and Greig Smith -- did not return calls asking what they would do. Unless an official takes steps to reject the raise, it automatically will show up in the paycheck.
Those who promised to turn down the salary hike pointed to the city's shaky finances -- and the looming prospect of budget cuts. "It is time for all of us to sacrifice," Councilwoman Janice Hahn said.
Among those keeping the money was Councilman Tom LaBonge, who said he already works hard for his salary and will work even harder at his higher pay grade.
"I hope the people in the city who know me realize that the work I do -- and have done for 34 years -- is good work for the people of Los Angeles," he said.
The raise comes at an awkward time, with two council panels taking up a proposal next week for hiking water and electrical rates. Some taxpayer watchdogs also are steaming over the increase in trash fees passed a year ago to pay for the hiring of additional police.
The pay hike "just shows how isolated our elected officials are from constituents," said Kris Vosburgh, executive director of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn.
Four council members could not be reached, despite at least three requests for comment during a 24-hour period beginning Wednesday afternoon.
"We don't know if he's not getting his text messages or what," said Stacy Bellew, spokeswoman for Cardenas -- one of several council members attending the National League of Cities conference in New Orleans this week.
Municipal lawmakers in Los Angeles already are the highest paid in the nation. The new pay raise is the fourth they've received in the last 2 1/2 years, bringing the annual salary for council members to $178,789, and $232,426 for the mayor. Each has received a raise of at least $35,000 during that period -- a sum that is more than half the median household income for a family of four in Los Angeles County.
"The average person does not get that kind of raise every year," said Jill Banks Barad, president of the Sherman Oaks Neighborhood Council.
The salary hikes are linked to the pay of Superior Court judges and also affect the five county supervisors. Still, county officials have not asked for voters to renew a controversial tax -- or warned that the city would lose much needed revenue if the tax is revoked.
Pay hikes for judges are calculated according to the average raise given to unionized state employees, some of whom still are negotiating their pay packages. If more union agreements are approved in the next few months, judges -- and therefore the city's elected officials -- could see another increase.
The council linked its salaries to judges in 1990 as part of an ethics reform package approved by voters. At the time, council members argued that such a move would help depoliticize their salaries.
Council members made about $60,000 per year at the time. Their salaries have nearly tripled since then and will continue to do so as long as state employees keep getting raises.
City Controller Laura Chick, one of those turning down the pay hike, said the council should have addressed the salary issue last year, when it placed Proposition R on the ballot. That measure was billed as an ethics reform measure, but also rolled back term limits for council members. Changing the pay raise procedure would require approval from voters.
"If they were really doing ethics reform, why weren't they unlinking their salaries from Superior Court judges?" asked Chick, whose office was not granted an extra term under Proposition R. "The whole thing was disingenuous."
Hahn and Chick said it is time for the city to develop a new system for paying its elected officials. Council President Eric Garcetti, who turned down the raise, said he was open to reconsidering the issue -- but only to a point.
"He would not support a proposal that would allow council members to raise their own pay," said Garcetti spokeswoman Julie Wong.
Councilmen Jose Huizar and Dennis Zine split the difference, saying they would accept the money but contribute an equivalent amount to a philanthropic cause. They could not yet say which charity would benefit from their largesse.
Zine, a former police officer who also receives an annual pension of at least $80,000, said if he turned down the raise, the extra money would simply be deposited in his council office account.