Business leader praises Brown opinion on gov't salaries

By Chris Rizo | Nov 21, 2009

Joel Fox

Jerry Brown (D)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline)-California Attorney General Jerry Brown's legal opinion that state lawmakers' salaries can be reduced mid-term won praise Friday from a statewide business leader.

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 president of the Small Business Action Committee, Joel Fox, said on his blog "Fox & Hounds" that Brown made the right decision.

"I'm no legal scholar, but Attorney General Jerry Brown's decision yesterday to allow for an 18 percent salary cut for the state's lawmakers and constitutional officers was a political no-brainer," Fox said. "The budget is in woeful deficit, unemployment is at record levels, public employees are on furlough - of course, the state lawmakers must share the pain."

The citizen commission voted in May 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 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.

"The fact that legislators tried to avoid the pay cut during these difficult times separates them even further from average citizens," wrote Fox, who runs Joel Fox Consulting, a public affairs and political consulting firm. He is a former longtime president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

In his formal legal opinion Thursday, 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."

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, it was announced that the Golden State 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 chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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