Despite facing a looming budget crunch, county supervisors will today consider giving Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley a 23% pay raise in an attempt to keep his salary on par with those of other county department heads and top prosecutors elsewhere in the state.
If three of the five supervisors approve the proposal, Cooley would make $292,300 a year, up from his current $236,829. Such a raise would make Cooley the highest-paid elected official in Los Angeles County government.
The raise would become effective in December, when the next four-year term for district attorney begins; so Cooley would have to win reelection this year to get the pay hike. So far, he is the only candidate who has raised money for the June 3 election. (If he wins a majority of the ballots cast then, he would not face a November runoff.)
Sharon Harper, chief deputy in the county's chief executive office, said budget staff recommended the increase after conducting a salary review of Cooley's peers.
She said the staff found that his pay was less than that of the Santa Clara County district attorney, who makes $245,406, as well as that of Los Angeles County's public defender, Michael P. Judge, who makes $237,224.
Traditionally, Harper said, the district attorney makes more than the public defender, who manages the agency that provides legal defense for indigent defendants. The district attorney oversees 2,220 employees and a roughly $327-million budget. The public defender oversees 1,099 employees and a roughly $167-million budget.
The proposal comes less than a week after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced major cuts in state funding -- reductions that will have a significant effect on county governments. Los Angeles County budget executives estimate that the county would have to absorb a $220-million hit under the proposed state budget.
"For the county to even consider this 23% increase is nothing short of outrageous," said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Assn. "It's not like other people wouldn't take this job. . . . One has to wonder whether or not the request comes from folks who are politically tone deaf."
County budget officials said the timing was unfortunate but that supervisors must act on any proposed salary increase now because of the rules for changing an elected official's pay. The county can approve a change only once per four-year term and not within 90 days of an election.
The Board of Supervisors cannot change an elected official's salary while he or she is in office.
"This is nonpartisan," said Lynn Vodden, director of the district attorney's bureau of management and budget. "We don't know who the next district attorney is going to be."