Scott Somers, second from right, speaks on behalf of the raise as the California… (Rene C. Byer / MCT )
SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown and state legislators were granted 5.2% raises Wednesday by a state panel that said the improving state economy and a flush budget justified restoring some of the salary cut from officials' paychecks in recent years.
The California Citizens Compensation Commission also partly restored health benefits for elected officials.
The panel had reduced the salaries of the governor, 120 legislators and 11 other state officers by 23% during the last four years as the recession forced deep cuts in state spending, including furloughs for rank-and-file workers.
The cuts for elected officials included a 5.2% reduction last year. But commissioners noted Wednesday that the economy has improved, the budget has been balanced with a $1-billion reserve fund, and Brown has offered a 4.5% pay raise over two years to members of the largest state employee union.
"Things are now in much better shape than they were a year ago," Commissioner Nancy Miller said.
Arguing for the raise, Commissioner Wilma Wallace said, "The governor has done a monolithic job of getting this state back in the right direction financially." She said it is "important to acknowledge that the Legislature has stepped up and that they deserve to have the 5% reinstated."
The panel's action boosts Brown's salary from $165,288 to $173,987 on Dec. 1 and increases legislators' pay from $90,526 to $95,291 at the same time. Raises will also be provided to the state attorney general, state treasurer, lieutenant governor and other state officers.
The vote on the pay raise was 5 to 1, with Commissioner John Stites opposing the increase. He said the economy has improved but that the state's financial status is fragile.
"Now is not the time for a raise," Stites said.
The raise was called "unacceptable" by Lew Uhler, president of the California-based National Tax Limitation Committee. He said too many average Californians are unemployed and those with jobs are not likely to get raises close to 5%.
"The only category of workers that seems to be benefiting is public employees," Uhler said. "It's time for the public employees to act like public servants rather than public masters."
The panel voted to increase the state's contribution to officials' health benefits by 10%, restoring half of the amount cut in 2009.
Commission Chairman Thomas Dalzell, who did not vote on either motion, said California's governor is now paid less than the chief executives in six other states and less than many city managers in this state.
"The city manager of Bakersfield makes more than the governor of California," Dalzell noted, citing that official's $220,000 base pay.
California lawmakers receive the highest base salary of any state's legislators, although commissioners noted that other states provide pensions and more numerous stipends than are paid here. The raises for lawmakers will cost taxpayers an extra $600,000 annually.