Why Legislators Should Take a Pay Cut During Deficit

Legislators who want to be true leaders should follow the example of Sen.
Abel Maldonado
and not only refuse pay raises any time the state’s in
a deficit, but also agree to cut their pay immediately.

Of all
the demands from all the Republicans in all the California Legislature, this one
sounds so imminently sensible that it should happen even if it doesn’t make it
into the final budget legislation, assuming the state some day reaches that
point.

That’s
not proposed as a form of punishment, because workers don’t face pay cuts for
not doing the job. They get fired. Only voters can fire legislators, though, so
any personnel changes will have to wait almost two years.

It’s
suggested as a way of for legislators to say, “Even though we’ve put the
state through months of agony, we’re not bad folks. We care. We’re willing to
take the same lumps millions of other furloughed, pay-frozen and laid off
Californians are taking.”

The
amount of money saved from a 10 percent cut — $936,000 a year — borders on
insignificant considering the $42 billion scope of the problem. But it’s an
amount that won’t seem insignificant to thousands of state workers soon to receive
layoff notices
. The roughly $11,620 per legislator – party leaders are paid
a bit more — equals what a $21,000-a-year worker would draw on
unemployment
.

Sure,
there will be the usual hemming and hawing about how the California Citizens
Compensation Commission, not the Legislature, sets pay.

The
commission, which came within one vote back in the summer of enacting a
10-percent cut, will in turn hem and haw about how it’s not sure it has the legal
authority to cut pay
.

None of that matters because there actually a really
simple way to make it happen.

All it
takes is 120 people marching into Controller John Chiang’s office — you know,
the guy whose furniture the Republicans
like to gripe about
all the time — saying “pay me less” and
signing a few papers.

Govs.
Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger have done it. Sen.
Jeff Denham
, a Republican from Merced
County, sort of does it,
though he usually turns around and takes the raises later. A schools
superintendent in a small Central Valley
district did it recently, telling the school
board to cut his pay
.

It’s
happened in Utah
and Michigan
already, though Utah’s is delayed a year and Michigan’s is caught up
in a legal question about judicial pay. It’s being considered in Kentucky
and Pennsylvania

In normal
times, it’s a move that would smack of populist politics. Except these are extraordinary
times with extraordinary problems.

Senate
President Darrell Steinberg didn’t sound opposed to Maldonado’s demand that
future raises be banned in times of budgetary crises — though he didn’t come
out and support it either, if you listen carefully.

“The
one that sounds potentially doable, that sounds reasonable — in fact good
public policy — is to not allow the Citizens Commission on legislative
salaries to ever raise our salary in a time of a budget deficit,” Steinberg
told The Sacramento Bee. “That makes a lot of sense. I think it makes good
sense.”

If it
makes sense during the next budget crisis, it makes sense now.