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Lawmakers give raises to aides before cutting other workers' pay

The raises are disclosed at an awkward time for Democrats gearing up to help Gov. Jerry Brown convince the public that tax hikes are needed in November.

July 19, 2012|By Patrick McGreevy and Michael J. Mishak, Los Angeles Times
  • State lawmakers gave pay increases worth $4.6 million annually to more than 1,000 of their aides. The raises come as Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, pictured, and Democrats gear up to push for Gov. Jerry Brown's tax plan on the November ballot.
State lawmakers gave pay increases worth $4.6 million annually to more… (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated…)

SACRAMENTO — Lawmakers gave raises worth $4.6 million annually to more than 1,000 of their aides before cutting the pay of most other state workers, newly released records show.

The lawmakers said they were trying to make up for several years without staff pay increases.

"Modest adjustments based on individual performance were appropriate," after pay and hiring freezes during the previous four years, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) said in a statement.

But the raises, at least 10% for some top staffers in the last 11 months, have been disclosed at an awkward time for Steinberg and his fellow Democrats, who control the Legislature. They are gearing up to help Gov. Jerry Brown to convince the public that the state is desperate for money in the aftermath of a deep recession and should pass billions of dollars in tax hikes in November.

Opponents of the governor's tax plan wasted no time in painting the Democrats as hypocrites.

"It's an outrage that they did this when the governor is asking voters to approve a tax initiative because he says we can't pay our bills," said Lew Uhler, head of the California-based National Tax Limitation Committee.

And state workers hit with a 4.62% pay cut to help balance California's budget were enraged by news of the raises.

"My membership is reeling from it,'' said Rocco Paternoster, executive director of the 7,000-member Assn. of California State Supervisors. "It's really a slap in the face not only [to] the employees but also the public."

He said a flood of angry emails from workers is believed to have contributed to the crashing of the group's website Thursday.

A spokesman for Steinberg said he would seek a pay freeze for the Senate staff during the current fiscal year. An Assembly spokesman said the lower house had no such plan.

Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles) declined to comment on the raises in his chamber since Dec. 1, 2011. Most of the them were given to Assembly workers who had not received any in at least three years, said Jon Waldie, chief administrative officer of the lower house.

Records requested by The Times indicate that at least 1,090 staffers in the Legislature received raises during the last fiscal year. More than 110 of those were earning six-figure salaries; 13 now make more than the $173,987 paid to Brown.

The highest-paid aide to receive a raise was Christopher Woods, chief budget consultant for the Assembly speaker. Woods' pay grew 3.6%, to $193,476. Catherine Abernathy, chief of staff for Assemblywoman Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield), received 37%, for a salary of $65,832 a year, after taking on additional duties.

Raises and promotions went to 533 Assembly staffers at an annual cost of $3.1 million, according to a Times analysis. About 200 employees changed jobs, with the vast majority of those — 163 workers — seeing at least a 10% bump in pay.

The raises help stabilize the Assembly workforce, which has experienced "massive turnover," Waldie said.

In the Senate, the highest-paid employee to get a boost was Kathryn Dresslar, Steinberg's chief assistant. She had an increase of 10% and makes $183,480.

Raises for 559 Senate employees — 58% of the staff — amount to $1.5 million a year, said Rhys Williams, a spokesman for Steinberg.

patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com

michael.mishak@latimes.com

Times data analyst Sandra Poindexter and staff writer Doug Smith contributed to this report.

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