Senate, Assembly pay in line with private salaries

The 2,129 staff members of the California Legislature earn an average of about $61,728 a year, which places them in the upper range of private-sector salaries and higher than the state’s average per-capita income.

A review of legislative salaries through November shows a trend that has developed over the past five years: The staff of the Senate, which has half the elected members of the Assembly, continues to move toward payroll parity with the larger house. The total legislative payroll for both houses is $131.4 million, reflecting roughly a $6 million increase since 2005.

Assembly payroll is about $67.4 million, while the Senate’s is $64 million.

The 40-member Senate has 967 staff members who earn a total of about $64 million annually, or an average of about $66,205 each. The 80-member Assembly has 1162 employees with a total payroll of $67.4 million. On the average, Assembly staffers earn an average of $58,000 a year.

Statistically, there are about 14 staffers for each Assembly member and 24 staff members per senator.

But within the broad numbers there are distinct differences between the two houses.

Proportionately, the Senate reflects better pay arrangements than the Assembly aside from the average salaries.

For example, about two-thirds of the Senate staff – 604 workers – earn $50,000 or more annually, about a dozen more than last spring. In the Assembly, which has nearly 200 more workers than the Senate, there are fewer employees – 591 – in the $50,000 club, a slight drop since the beginning of the year.

For those earning $100,000 or more, the Senate comes out on top again.

Some 157 Senate staffers earn more than $100,000 a year, compared with 125 in the Assembly. And for the highest-paid staffers, those earning more than $120,000 a year, the Senate has 77 at that level; the Assembly, 59.

The highest paid employee of the Assembly is Nolice Edwards, top aide to Speaker Karen Bass, at $190,008. Her counterpart in the Senate is Gregory Schmidt, the top administrative officer, at $205,584.

The salary data can be deceptive because the figures reflect only raw amounts, and not whether a worker is part-time. Consultants under contract may not be included, and the actual location of staff members may be different than is indicated on the pay sheet because of the maze of committees, sub-committees, offices, caucuses, and the like.

The salaries also do not reflect the quality of the working conditions in either house.  Privately, many staffers say they prefer the Senate, because of greater stability and longevity. Both houses are replete with staffers’ stories of mercurial and hard-to-handle bosses, but those tales appear to be more intense in the Assembly than in the Senate.

The legislative salaries appear to compare favorably with pay averages in the private sector, according to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the North American Industry Classification System.

In 23 separate categories identified by the BLS for California — such as agriculture, construction, retail trade, mining and finance and insurance, among others – the average legislative salary was higher than  15 categories and lower than eight. The top category, information, had an average salary of $74,000, followed closely by corporate management and technical services.   

The state’s average personal income is about $39,000, according to 2006 figures from the U.S. Commerce Department.

At the lower end in the Legislature, 26 workers in the Assembly earn $12,000 a year or less, including 20 – mostly interns – who aren’t paid. In the Senate, seven people earn $12,000 a year or less, which includes one unpaid intern.

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