Bid to Curb Pay of Elected and Appointed Officials to Heat Up Fall Ballot
Tapping into anti-government sentiment, tax crusader Paul Gann raised nearly $1 million in his successful drive to qualify a November ballot initiative to limit salaries of elected and appointed public officials.
It is evidence of the fund-raising ability that probably will enable Gann to mount a potent campaign for passage of what figures to be one of the fall’s hottest ballot issues.
Managers of Gann’s People’s Advocate political organization said the money came from nearly 50,000 individual contributors responding to a massive direct-mail campaign that began more than a year ago.
“I’ve never done anything that attracted so much attention from the public,” Gann said. “People out there are upset. They feel they are being taken advantage of, and they’ve responded.”
Property Tax Measure
The initiative, which qualified for the ballot last month with nearly 730,000 valid voter signatures, is the latest political effort by Gann, who has sponsored several other ballot measures, including a joint effort with Howard Jarvis that led to passage of property tax-slashing Proposition 13 in 1978.
Titled the California Fair Pay Amendment, the initiative would strictly limit the salaries of state officials, legislators, judges and local government employees. It would allow future pay raises only after a vote of the people.
The top pay for the governor would be set at $80,000 while all other elected or appointed state and local officials could receive a maximum of 80% of the governor’s salary, or about $64,000. Salaries of the state’s constitutional officers, such as secretary of state or treasurer, would be limited to $52,500.
The governor now receives $49,100 a year, a sum that has remained the same for 20 years. Under a law that takes effect in January, the governor’s salary is scheduled to rise to $102,000 per year. The law set the salary at $85,000 but included an allowance for inflation that by January will add another $17,000.
Constitutional officers, who are currently paid $42,000 annually, will begin earning $87,500 next year, including the cost-of-living allowance.
In addition to curbing salaries, the initiative would limit the amount of money that government agencies could pay to private consultants and would outlaw the common practice of allowing government employees to carry unused sick leave and vacation time into the next year.
Shock Waves in Government
The prospect of such a sweeping measure has sent shock waves through the ranks of government and, to a lesser degree, through the halls of private industry where top executives, who often deal with government, fear the prospect of a public agency “brain drain.”
A coalition of about 50 groups, calling itself Californians for Quality Government and representing public employees, police, firefighters, judges and the California Chamber of Commerce, has organized to defeat the measure. The group has retained the firm of Woodward & McDowell, the political consulting organization that ran the successful campaign for passage earlier this month of Proposition 51, the “deep-pockets” insurance initiative.
The coalition is expected to spend more than $2 million on the campaign, and Gann said he hopes to raise half that much. Of the $910,500 Gann reported raising so far, all but $36,000 was spent in fund-raising and gathering signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot.
Richard Simpson, executive vice president of the California Taxpayers’ Assn. and chairman of the coalition, said he believes that it will be an uphill battle to defeat the initiative, particularly in light of Gann’s demonstrated ability to raise money.
“I think on the surface it has a great deal of public appeal,” Simpson conceded. “But (Gann) is going to have to respond to the total shambles he is making of rational public salary setting.”
UC Regents Oppose Measure
On Friday, the University of California Board of Regents became one of the first public agencies to officially vote its opposition to the initiative, citing what it called the measure’s “devastating impact” on university programs.
Other opponents say its passage would severely damage California’s ability to retain and attract top talent to all government jobs and that it would create labor-management strife by invalidating thousands of contracts with public employees and private contractors.
Gann shrugs off those arguments, saying that he would have no problem finding plenty of qualified people to take the place of those who might leave government service. “We have people who couldn’t find their way home who are working now (in government jobs),” Gann said.
In fund-raising letters, Gann is emphasizing that holding down public salaries will also result in lower public pensions. The letters note that on Jan. 1 former top state officeholders will reap a $3.3-million pension windfall because of a provision in the law linking their pensions to the salaries of current officeholders.
Higher Pensions Feared
But opponents say Gann’s proposal actually could trigger higher pensions since government agencies would be looking for alternate ways of compensating top employees.
The Legislature, which in the past has tackled pension reform with reluctance, voted this week to place a constitutional amendment on the Nov. 4 ballot that would invalidate the Jan. 1 pension windfall and allow future pension increases only in proportion to inflation.
Gann has attacked the legislative measure for not going far enough, claiming it is a thinly disguised effort to defuse his campaign.