Salaries for Legislature’s staff top $129 million

The total payroll for the employees of the California Legislature is slightly more than $129.3 million, and the average pay for 2,054 legislative workers is about $63,000 a year, according to legislative data analyzed by Capitol Weekly.

The figures reflect a trend that has accelerated in recent years: Despite the differences in size between the two houses, the budgets of the 80-maember Assembly and the 40-member Senate are coming closing together.

The Assembly has a payroll of about $66.8 million, while the Senate payroll is $62.5 million. The Assembly employs some 1,128 people, and the Senate staff is listed at 926 workers, according to figures supplied by the Rules Committees in each house.

The average pay for an employee in the Senate is about $67,388 per year. In the Assembly, it is just over $59,198 annually.

The median salary in the Senate, the point at which half the salaries are higher and the other half are lower, is $60,720. In the Assembly, the median salary is $51,312.

Capitol salaries have long been a bone of contention, not only among those who work in the Capitol, but among members of the public who find the salary levels objectionable – for whatever reason. For some, such as conservative and anti-tax groups, the pay is too high. For others, including many who work in the building, the pay is lower than they could earn working in the private sector.

A key difference between legislative and private-sector salaries is that the legislative salaries are in the public domain. The public nature of the pay often causes tensions in the houses where managers and staffers know each other's salaries, and people performing the same function receive widely disparate pay. Chiefs of staff, for example, typically function as a lawmaker's principal office executive, yet their salaries vary dramatically, even in cases where they manage similar numbers of people.

Among the best-paid employees of the Legislature are the consultants who specialize in specific policy areas and who advise lawmakers on legislation. They are the Legislature's experts, and their advice often shapes legislation that has major impacts on California life. The consultants, especially the veterans, are at the heart of the legislative policy community, providing institutional memory in a setting where the elected officials change constantly because of term limits.

At the center of the Legislature are the workers who do the logistical chores, the technical work, accounting, field representation and who maintain the house. Those include the sergeants at arms in both houses who provide security to the members – and the public – and enforce legislative rules.

Critics of legislative salary levels note that the average pay in either house of the Legislature is higher than the per-capita pay in Marin County, which at $44,962 has the highest per-capita income of any of California's 58 counties and is the highest of any county in the United States. The per-capita pay in Sacramento County, where the Capitol is located, is $21,142, or 23rd in the ranking of the state's counties.

In the Senate, the average for individual salaries — $67,388 annually — is higher than the median family incomes for all but four of California's counties – Ventura ($75,157), Santa Clara ($74,335), Marin ($71,306) and San Mateo ($70,819).

About 775 people earn more than $40,000 annually in the Assembly, while 747 earn $40,000 or more in the Senate.

At the top end of the salary scales, 125 workers in the Assembly earn more than $100,000 a year. Of those, 19 earn more than $150,000. The highest paid Assembly staff member is Nolice Edwards, chief of staff to Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, who earns $190,008 annually. Just behind her is Christopher Woods, top consultant to the Assembkly Democratic Caucus, who earns $186,756 a year.

In the Senate, the highest-paid employee is Gregory Schmidt, the secretary of the Senate, at $205,584, followed by Craig Cornett, chief assistant to Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg, at $183,480.

You can search Capitol Weekly's legislative salary database here.

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