Big Daddy

Big Daddy

Big Daddy,
Hey, what about pay cuts for lawmakers?
–Carly in Mountain View

Absolutely not. No way. Never. Not a penny. Bad idea. Go away.

As Jack Germond of Gannett once said, never cheapen the beat. I don’t often quote reporters – you wouldn’t, either, if you knew them like I do – but I think Germond got this one right. In the Capitol, I’ve learned that you should never do democracy on the cheap and never listen to people who want to do more with less.

I know what I’m talking about. I spent my professional life pushing money around, either picking pockets or stuffing pockets, and every time somebody wanted to save money, bad things happened. Look at Proposition 13, term limits, legislative pensions, the budget and the newspaper industry. I rest my case.

Rank-and-file lawmakers took a pay hit last December, and now make about $95,200 a year; legislative leaders make a bit more. That’s not much, considering that they hold the fate of California in their trembling hands and that most of them could earn considerably more somewhere else.

So when I hear about pay cuts, especially when I hear about pay cuts coming from our governor – he doesn’t take salary but has a fat-cat foundation pay his expenses — or any candidate for governor, I get a bit touchy.

The Compensation Commission, composed of appointees of Gov. Schwarzengger, is scheduled to meet June 16, a day after the constitutional deadline for the Legislature to approve a state budget and send it to the governor. It’s all but certain that lawmakers will fail to meet the deadline – in fact, my guess is that Schwarzenegger will leave office before a new budget is passed – and that means there will be a lot of public clamor to cut those legislators’ pay.

Cutting legislators’ pay won’t resolve the budget deficit. That will take fortitude in both parties of the Legislature and the governor. Hallowed constituencies will have to be stepped on – CTA, Chamber of Commerce, SEIU – and sound bites will have to be muzzled. So far, I don’t see any evidence that this will happen, but one can hope. As Ron told me at the Firehouse, just call me a cock-eyed optimist.

Here’s how you solve the budget deficit. First, you approve an oil severance tax. Second, you repeal the menu of corporate tax loopholes from the last two budgets. Third, you add a penny to the statewide sales tax. Fourth, you release non-violent offenders from state prisons. Fifth, you levy production and talent taxes on the porn industry.

We can spend our way to prosperity, I guarantee it. The more money spent by government, the more money is earned in the private sector. Money attracts money. Just look at the G.I. Bill: what it cost to implement we got back in income taxes from well-educated workers and property taxes from homeowners. That’s how it’s supposed to work. I give you a dollar, you give me a hot dog.

Naturally, my proposals aren’t very popular. But they worked when I was Assembly speaker and they worked when I was treasurer. And they’ll work now.

You don’t have to thank me. I’ll bill you later.

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