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State Lawmakers Give Pay Raises Amidst Budget Deficit


Some politicians in Sacramento are giving pay raises to staffers amidst a multi-billion-dollar budget deficit. We're joined on Morning Edition by nonpartisan Sacramento political consultant Leo McElroy.

Some politicians in Sacramento are giving raises to staff amidst a multi-billion-dollar budget deficit. We're joined on Morning Edition by nonpartisan Sacramento political consultant Leo McElroy. Leo, Assemblyspeaker -- the outgoing Assemblyspeaker Karen Bass gave 10 percent to 20 staff members a few weeks ago. Now the current speaker wants to give his own staff raises. How does John Pérez justify pay raises during a budget crunch?

LEO MCELROY: Well, the first thing he's doing is he's not addressing the Karen Bass pay raises at all. There was some thought that those raises, which she gave on her last day in office as speaker, might be reversed by him. And he hasn't done a thing about that. And then he announced the whopping raises to members of his own staff. One raise was $65,000 in raise. That's a lot more than 10 percent, and hasn't at all addressed the Karen Bass raises. So essentially what you have is a whole batch of legislative employees who are making really, really substantial raises in a down economy. A number of them making substantially more than members of the legislature are making. The legislature's been paycut, by the way, but the staff members are just sailing on up the economic ladder.

DWANE BROWN: Now, are they facing some type of deadline to get these raises passed before the end of the fiscal or something?

MCELROY: Oh, there's nothing about passing them, they're there. They are there. There's no vote called for them or anything else. These people have the raises, and they're paychecks will look accordingly.

PAMELA DAVIS: Now the minority leader, Republican Martin Garrick of Solana Beach right here in San Diego County also gave out some big pay raises. What kind of political impact could this have on these lawmakers?

MCELROY: Well, it would have two impacts. The first impact is, a lot of the public looks at this, and says you know in a down economy this is really ridiculous, why are you giving out these raises? And that's going to be a pretty natural reaction from the public. And it results in poll numbers that show the legislature rating very low with the public. The problem is, that it doesn't reflect against the individual giving the pay raises, because he is not elected by the people of the state of California, he's elected by the people of one district, and the way our district's are drawn, they're not really competitive, and the office holder in most districts is relatively safe from ever being turned out until he's termed out. So the likelihood of anything snapping back on any of these people is very, very low.

BROWN: So, politics and the internet is something that's being discussed these days in Sacramento. What are these arguments -- I find it kind of ironic -- for and against legislation to stop spreading false information?

MCELROY: Yeah, it's an interesting question, because it really gets strongly into constitutional issues regarding freedom of speech, but the Fair Political Practices Commission is really concerned that it needs to be at least looking at whether there should be regulation involved in taking on cases where false information is spread on the internet, or false charges are spread, or statements are made where you don't really know who's making the statement. They're really concerned with accountability here, and so they're calling meetings to try to pick the brains of state officials, to see if anybody has an answer as to how we deal with what one witness is calling a communication disease rather than a communicable disease.

DAVIS: San Diego political consultant Leo McElroy, thanks for joining us this morning.

MCELROY: You bet.

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