Gov. Jerry Brown, state lawmakers and other elected officials were given a 2% pay raise Friday by a state panel whose members said California's improving economy and sound budget situation justify the increase.
The increase was approved by the state Citizens Compensation Commission, which is appointed by the governor. Last year it granted state officials a 5.2% raise.
Commissioner Scott Somers noted that elected officials had their salaries reduced 23% during the recession.
"They get tarred when times are tough, so they ought to get some credit when things are improving," Somers said. Commissioners settled on 2%, which takes effect in December, because that is how much salaries are going up for non-elected state managers.
The vote was 4 to 1, with Commissioner Anthony Barkett opposing another raise so soon after last year's increase. The state faces large unfunded liabilities, including pension costs, and questions remain about whether the economy is on firm footing.
"I wasn't comfortable with an increase," Barkett said. "Let's wait a year or two or three and see how things are going."
Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., said the pay increase for legislators was unjustified.
"California already has the highest-paid Legislature in the U.S.," Coupal said. "Taxpayers will see through the contention that the legislators are worth this much money when they see what they get from them."
The base pay for state legislators is $95,291, the highest for any Legislature in the country. However, Commission Chairman Thomas Dalzell noted that California legislators do not receive a pension, while retirement benefits are provided in other states.
Under Friday's action, the base salary for legislators will rise $1,905 to $97,196.
The commission vote means Brown's salary will increase by $3,479 to $177,466 per year, which is still below the pay for the governors of Tennessee ($178,356), New York ($179,000) and Pennsylvania ($187,256).
The same 2% pay raises will apply to the state attorney general, treasurer, controller, lieutenant governor, superintendent of public instruction, insurance commissioner and members of the State Board of Equalization.
Dalzell signaled that the panel may further adjust some salaries of statewide officials next year. He was particularly bothered that state Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris' annual pay is $151,127, while the district attorney of Los Angeles County receives $314,228.
"I do think there is a great disparity between what we pay our constitutional officers and what is received by others in like positions," agreed Commissioner Nancy Miller, who originally proposed 5% raises for the state officials.
Somers originally proposed to give statewide elected officials a 3% raise, Assembly members 5% and senators 8%.
In a year when three Democratic state senators have been suspended over criminal charges, Lew Uhler, president of the California-based National Tax Limitation Committee, said the raises were out of line.
"When we continue to have the drain of jobs, the flight of companies and the horrendous unpaid obligations for pensions, they ought to take a pay cut and not a pay raise," Uhler said.