Generating heat

The amount of money involved, $1.44 million, amounts to only four-hundredths of 1 percent of the $4 billion shortfall in the California budget. But it’s sure generating a lot of heat.

We’re talking, of course, about the 12 percent raise—from $99,000 to $111,000 annually—state legislators are scheduled to receive beginning in December. The hike was authorized by an independent commission voters established in 1990 and is the first increase since 1998.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was quick to hammer lawmakers last week for agreeing to the increase even though, he said, they say the state is short of money. “So instead of giving the people that really need more money—like education, like health care, Healthy Families … the legislators have decided that they need the money first.”

As the Los Angeles Times has noted, this is “pure demagoguery, nearly every word of it false.” Obviously, the governor couldn’t resist the temptation to exploit such a juicy opportunity.

Closer to home, Assemblyman Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, reports that he “shook his head in disbelief” when he learned of the raise. “This is another example of how out-of-touch some in the political class really are with taxpayers.” He’s pledged to donate his additional pay to “worthy Northstate causes.”

Good for him. But we can’t help but detect the sour smell of politicking in his self-righteousness. The independent commission, after all, was just doing what voters asked it to do.

As polls show, the public is extremely unhappy with the Legislature these days. As a group, it’s failed to solve most of the state’s biggest problems. But most lawmakers are good people who work hard at a difficult and important job. The system is terribly flawed, and lawmakers are pulling in different directions, but that doesn’t make them undeserving of a reasonable raise.

Having said that, we urge them—and especially the Democrats among them—to reject this raise, at least for now. Accepting it would only anger people more. The lawmakers and the governor should then stop their bickering over petty issues and work out some of the state’s problems. If they do that, nobody will begrudge them a raise.