Alan Greenblatt is a GOVERNING correspondent.E-mail: email@example.com
California's Citizen Compensation Commission the other day decided that it might be a good idea, in light of the state's ever-escalating deficit, to lower the salaries of legislators and constitutional officers. Sacramento Bee columnist Steve Wiegand has a column today that defends legislative salaries as a bargain -- or, at least I think he does. He still takes so many cheap shots at legislators for being "slightly more popular than herpes," and such, that it's hard to tell.
But as tempting as it may be to jump on this bandwagon and then use it to run over elected officials, I must demur. Nay, I must take up a verbal cudgel in defense, particularly in the case of legislators. Here's why:
Their pay is not that exorbitant.
The average legislator (that is, legislators who are not legislative leaders, since like the children of Lake Wobegon, all California legislators are above average) makes $116,208 per year. This is just 55.4 percent more than the median income for a family of four.
Sure, that doesn't include the $30,000 in tax-free per diem money they get each year, or the use of a swell new vehicle that costs them hardly anything.
But being overpaid is relative. Just remember that Keanu Reeves gets millions of dollars to "act" in movies, and Barry Zito gets millions of dollars to go 0-5 for the Giants.
Wiegand goes onto defend the hardships involved in being a legislator and the need to maintain good salaries in order to attract qualified people to run -- which prompts another dig:
Under these conditions, and no matter what the pay, it's a wonder we attract any competent, ethical and hardworking people to serve as legislators.
GOVERNING Politics is the place for news and analysis on campaigns and elections. If there's a ballot measure in California, a legislative election in Alabama, a mayoral election in Anchorage or a governor's race in Rhode Island, GOVERNING Politics probably is writing about it. We love everything about state and local politics, from polls and campaign ads to policy debates and demographic trends.