SACRAMENTO — All but two state senators have agreed to cut their salaries this year, with one holdout saying that his pay is nobody's business and that slicing it would amount to a political gimmick.
Most senators have gone along with a recent request by Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) to decrease their pay by 5% for the fiscal year starting July 1. Some senators have given up more.
With the state facing a $24-billion budget shortfall, Steinberg said volunteering for pay cuts would show that senators were sharing the pain with the majority of state workers, whose compensation has decreased 9.2% this year through unpaid furloughs.
That argument hasn't convinced Sens. Roderick Wright (D-Inglewood) and Roy Ashburn (R-Bakersfield).
"What I get paid is personal. I don't discuss what I do personally," Wright said. "I don't choose to make anything I do on my personal side public."
Legislators' salaries are set by a state Citizens Compensation Commission, which recently voted to shrink them by 18% for those elected after this year, he noted.
"I think anything else is trying to be gimmicky," Wright said.
There may be political advantages for lawmakers who announce voluntary pay cuts, but that does not motivate him, he said.
Lew Uhler, president of the California-based National Tax Limitation Committee, called Wright's argument that his pay is a private matter "specious."
"The public pays his salary," Uhler said, "so it is the public's business how much he earns."
Senators who haven't cut their pay "should really be quite embarrassed," Uhler said.
California legislators are paid a base salary of $116,208 a year, the highest in the country. They also receive $36,000 annually in tax-free per diem payments for living expenses in Sacramento.
Ashburn, who is prevented by term limits from running for reelection, said Friday that he has not gone along with his colleagues in part because he has always accepted that his pay should be set by the citizens commission.
Although Steinberg promised to use salary savings to restore money cut from basic services, Ashburn said he is not convinced the $235,000 that would be saved if every senator took the cut would end up benefiting any program beyond the Senate's own budget.
"My big concern is that any pay cut does not help the state's general fund, but instead it goes to fund the Democrat Senate operations, which clearly are working against the best interest of the people," Ashburn said. "Why would I want to participate in that?"
Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) has not asked members of her chamber to take salary reductions, but some have nevertheless done so.