Brown: Commission may cut state officials' salaries

Chris Rizo Nov. 19, 2009, 1:37pm

Jerry Brown (D)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline)- A day after the state's gloomy financial outlook was released, state Attorney General Jerry Brown said in a formal legal opinion Thursday that the California Constitution allows elected officials' salaries to be cut.

Brown, a Democrat, was asked by legislative administrators whether the seven-member panel that sets lawmakers' wages and benefits -- the California Citizens Compensation Commission -- may reduce the salaries of legislators and other elected officials in the middle of their terms amid the state's fiscal woes.

The question poised to Brown followed a commission vote this year to reduce the salaries of elected officials, including state legislators, by 18 percent. The salary reduction would cut legislative pay from $116,208 to $95,291.

The salary cut, approved 5-1 in May, applies also to the attorney general, state superintendent of public instruction, controller, insurance commissioner, treasurer, lieutenant governor, secretary of state and members of the Board of Equalization.

The commission also in June cut lawmakers' per-diem payments, car allowances and medical insurance and other benefits by 18 percent effective next month.

In his legal opinion, Brown noted California voters' 1990 approval of Proposition 112, which requires the commission to "adjust the annual salaries of state officers" each year. Brown said Proposition 112 contradicts and supersedes a ballot measure adopted in 1972 that prohibited mid-term salary reductions.

"The rules of constitutional interpretation require harmonization of conflicting provisions if possible. If provisions cannot be reconciled, however, the later-adopted provision prevails," Brown wrote. "Because I believe that the two conflicting provisions cannot be reconciled, the later-adopted provision calling for adjustments up or down must prevail."

He added: "The fundamental objective of statutory interpretation is to ascertain and effectuate the intent of the enacting body, which in this case is the voters. I believe that a careful review of the text of Proposition 112 and the accompanying ballot pamphlet makes clear that the voters intended in 1990 to create a new system of setting legislative compensation to include an annual up or down adjustment of salaries and benefits."

Last year, the California Citizens Compensation Commission, whose members are governor's appointees, approved a 5 percent raise for the attorney general and state superintendent of schools and a 2.75 percent raise for state legislators and other state elected officials.

On Wednesday, Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor said California will face a nearly $21 billion budget shortfall over the next year and a half.

The report released by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office said there is a $6.3 billion shortfall in the current fiscal year budget, which Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed in July.

The state's budget gap will expand to $14.4 billion for fiscal year 2010-2011, Taylor said.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at

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