CA Lawmakers Gave Staffers Pay Hikes Despite Deficit
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Against a backdrop of deep fiscal distress, several state lawmakers rewarded their employees with pay hikes during the first half of the year, an Associated Press review of legislative pay records showed.

At least 87 California Assembly staff members received raises totaling more than $430,000 on an annualized basis, even as the state faced a growing budget deficit that led to furloughs and pay cuts for many other government workers and steep reductions in core services.

The review of records obtained under the state Legislative Open Records Act found that salary bumps went to three employees in the office of Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, the Los Angeles Democrat who leads the 80-member chamber, and three to staff members of the Democratic caucus she oversees.

In the 40-member Senate, nine staffers had a boost in pay, leading to an annualized increase of $152,000.

Aides to several members of the Assembly and Senate said some of the increases were not raises in the traditional sense. Rather, they described the higher pay as extra compensation for employees who were working more hours.

The Assembly also trimmed about 13 percent from its overall payroll in the current fiscal year, while the Senate instituted one-day-a-month furloughs in July for most staffers, spokeswomen for both houses said.

Even so, the pay increases to dozens of legislative staffers between January and the end of June came as tens of thousands of state workers were seeing pay cuts of nearly 10 percent.

In the Assembly, 39 employees received pay increases of 10 percent or more. Of those, 15 saw increases of 20 percent or more. Seven of the nine Senate staffers who received increases saw their pay rise by 10 percent or more as they began working more hours, according to staff.

Five Assembly staffers and two Senate staffers who already made $100,000 a year or more saw their pay rise.

In the Assembly, 10 increases went to Republican staffers and 12 went to security staff employed by the Assembly Rules Committee. Most of the rest went to employees of Democratic lawmakers or their committees, according to the AP review.

The Assembly had 1,206 employees on its payroll as of June, said Shannon Murphy, a spokeswoman for Bass. Of those, about 7 percent had received pay increases, the AP review found.

Murphy said the Assembly's annual payroll had decreased by $1.3 million in June from a year earlier, with 15 fewer employees.

The pay of 10 employees also decreased in the Assembly during the first six months of 2009 by a total annualized amount of $102,000, either because those workers were putting in fewer hours or changed jobs within the Legislature.

The Legislative Open Records Act allows the Legislature to be far more restrictive in its release of information than other state agencies, which are covered under a separate law, the California Public Records Act.

Both houses of the Legislature refused the AP's request to make the payroll records available electronically. Details of their spending are not listed in the annual budget the governor signs, as they are for other state agencies and departments, meaning there is no way to cross-check the information the Legislature provides.

The first six months of the year represents a period in which lawmakers and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger were grappling with a deepening budget deficit that eventually forced them to make some $30 billion in cuts over a two-year period to education, health care, state parks and other programs.

During that period, Assemblywoman Lori Saldana, D- San Diego, awarded a total of $41,000 in annualized pay increases to her staff, the highest total increase for any member of the Legislature.

That included 20 percent pay boosts for three of her employees and a 15 percent increase for her chief of staff, Lucy Krohn, bringing her annual wage to $110,640.

Joe Kocurek, a spokesman for Saldana, said the lawmaker's elevation this year to a leadership role and to chairwoman of the Legislative Women's Caucus made the pay increases necessary. He said several staff members had not received raises in two years, while others were promoted to higher positions.