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Editorial

Dear Assemblyman Cedillo

December 09, 2010

An open letter to Assemblyman Gil Cedillo (D- Los Angeles):

You might want to rethink your decision to challenge the pay cut imposed on lawmakers and other state officials last year. Admittedly, the cut hurt — you and your colleagues lost 18% of your pay, leaving you with a little more than $96,000 a year. But though your appeal to the Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board might win you some friends in the Legislature, it's not likely to win any fans across the state, where the median family income is nearly $20,000 below your (reduced) salary. Or in state agencies, either — you might recall the furloughs in many departments that have effectively cut their employees' pay by almost 14%.

You may shrug off such criticism and argue that you're fighting for principle. Your lawyer argues that the California Citizens Compensation Commission exceeded its authority by imposing a pay cut in mid-session, rather than putting it into effect after the election. The top legal expert in state government — then-Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown — ruled earlier this year that the cut was legal, but he was running for governor at the time, so you're entitled to suspect the ruling was colored by politics.

But now is not the time to fight that battle. A larger principle is in play than a legislator's right to collect the salary that was in effect when the job was posted. It's the duty lawmakers owe to the people who elect them.

Times are tough throughout California, and governments at all levels are cutting back on staff and services. Lawmakers should be first in line, not last, to share the hardship. It's not just good politics; it sends the right message to the people who work for the government you lead. Besides, the pay cut might give you more incentive to find a way out of the budget mess, rather than bouncing from crisis to crisis. As it is, you're not even getting your chimerical budget deals done on time. The delays have made the fiscal problems even worse, spooking credit markets and raising the state's borrowing costs.

Granted, it's expensive to be a legislator, particularly for the folks who represent districts in Southern California. The commute is costly, and it's no picnic having to maintain two residences. We feel your pain. But we think you should heed the same message the state has delivered to teachers, welfare recipients, Medicaid patients and many, many others who rely on tax dollars for their well-being: It's time to tighten your belts.

And before you ask for a bigger paycheck, put the state's financial house in order. Then we'll have something to talk about.

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