Return of the salary setters

The anonymous, hand-written note—dropped off last week at the Sacramento News & Review office—began with an ominous warning: “Look out! They are coming again!!!”

“They” are the California Citizens Compensation Commission, which gathers in Sacramento this week to consider jacking up the salaries of the state’s top elected officials, an annual exercise that always draws animated scrutiny from taxpayer advocates.

“In past years, this seven-member panel has been very generous with our tax money!” concluded the note, a colorful screed composed with seven different marking pens. “Citizens—Come to this Meeting!”

Commission members, all appointed by the governor, will gather at Sacramento City Hall at 1 p.m. on April 12 to set next year’s salaries and benefits for all elected state officials, including Governor Gray Davis and members of the California Legislature.

In addition to what is expected to be considerable public testimony, the commission will base its decision on a packet of information prepared by the Department of Personnel Administration.

That includes comparable current wages of elected officials in the 10 most highly populated states, as well as a history of wage increases since the commission’s inception. The commission was established when voters passed Proposition 112 in June 1990.

The biggest salary increases approved by the commission came in 1998, when the governor’s salary went from $131,040 to $165,000, the controller and treasurer salaries went from $98,280 to $132,000, and legislators saw their pay rise from $78,624 to $99,000.

Public furor over the steep increases was at least one factor in the commission making few salary changes the next year, but last year, most salaries jumped again.

Governor Davis’ current salary of $175,000 is second only to the governor of New York, who makes $179,000, while that state’s legislators make just $79,500 compared to the nearly six-figure salary pulled by most California lawmakers (legislative leaders make even more).

Bob Painter of the Department of Personnel Administration said that people who attend the meeting are typically concerned about how the state spends its tax money and are troubled by public officials being paid too much.

“Anyone can come in and sit down. Anyone can stand up and speak,” Painter said. “It is an open process.”

Each person wanting to voice an opinion is limited to five minutes. To weigh in on whether your elected representative deserves more or less of our tax money, just show up at 1 p.m. in the Council Chambers, City Hall, 915 I St., Sacramento.