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 ina deficit, but also agree to cut their pay immediately.

Of allthe demands from all the Republicans in all the California Legislature, this onesounds so imminently sensible that it should happen even if it doesn't make itinto the final budget legislation, assuming the state some day reaches thatpoint.

That'snot proposed as a form of punishment, because workers don't face pay cuts fornot doing the job. They get fired. Only voters can fire legislators, though, soany personnel changes will have to wait almost two years.

It'ssuggested as a way of for legislators to say, "Even though we've put thestate through months of agony, we're not bad folks. We care. We're willing totake the same lumps millions of other furloughed, pay-frozen and laid offCalifornians are taking."

Theamount of money saved from a 10 percent cut -- $936,000 a year -- borders oninsignificant considering the $42 billion scope of the problem. But it's anamount that won't seem insignificant to thousands of state workers soon to receivelayoff notices. The roughly $11,620 per legislator - party leaders are paida bit more -- equals what a $21,000-a-year worker would draw onunemployment.

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

Thecommission, which came within one vote back in the summer of enacting a10-percent cut, will in turn hem and haw about how it's not sure it has the legalauthority to cut pay.

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

All ittakes is 120 people marching into Controller John Chiang's office -- you know,the guy whose furniture the Republicanslike to gripe about all the time -- saying "pay me less" andsigning 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 schoolssuperintendent in a small Central Valleydistrict did it recently, telling the schoolboard to cut his pay.

It'shappened in Utahand Michiganalready, though Utah's is delayed a year and Michigan's is caught upin a legal question about judicial pay. It's being considered in Kentuckyand Pennsylvania

In normaltimes, it's a move that would smack of populist politics. Except these are extraordinarytimes with extraordinary problems.

SenatePresident Darrell Steinberg didn't sound opposed to Maldonado's demand thatfuture raises be banned in times of budgetary crises -- though he didn't comeout and support it either, if you listen carefully.

"Theone that sounds potentially doable, that sounds reasonable -- in fact goodpublic policy -- is to not allow the Citizens Commission on legislativesalaries to ever raise our salary in a time of a budget deficit," Steinbergtold The Sacramento Bee. "That makes a lot of sense. I think it makes goodsense."

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