Underpaid–and proud of it

Where can a Republican brag about how little money he makes? In the California Legislature, of course.

Regardless of whether they are in the Assembly or Senate, California legislators make $113,088 in salary each year. That is unless they are in leadership or they’re named Denham, Maldonado or Nakanishi.

This trio of legislators have turned down pay increases over the last several years, to the point that they lag $14,000 or more behind their peers. Both Senator Abel Maldonado, R-Santa Maria, and Assemblyman Alan Nakanishi, R-Lodi, make $99,000, according to the legislative-salary database provided to the Capitol Weekly by the Rules Committees in each house.

Maldonado is not shy about talking about his decision to turn down increased pay, saying he has on occasion brought it up in his campaigns.

“We go there to serve and help the people, not to do to serve and help ourselves,” Maldonado said. “I can’t take a raise from the people when we can’t balance the budget.”

They got there by turning down numerous pay increases. Nakanishi came into the Assembly in 2002, while Maldonado was elected to the Assembly in 1998 and moved to the Senate in 2004. Both are frozen at the pay scale legislators had prior to December 1, 2005, when Citizen’s Compensation Committee increased the salary to $110,880. The Commission approved a further 2 percent increase last June.

Senator Jeff Denham, R-Merced, was the lowest-paid legislator at $94,282, but he gave up that title last week. He requesting a 5 percent pay cut from the state controller’s office when he joined the Senate at the end of 2002, mirroring a Republican proposal at the time, then turned down two pay raises. However, with the state’s financial situation improving, as shown by a cost of living increase for state workers that went into effect this month, he agreed to take the bump to $110,880.

Maldonado noted that legislators don’t get salary or per diem–the $36,000 annually that legislators get to cover their cost of living during session in Sacramento–when the budget is overdue. However, he said that while most legislators take the check for back pay and per diem once the budget does get approved, he doesn’t. In fact, he said, one of the first pieces of legislation he sponsored was to prevent legislators from taking this back pay–and he was quickly shot down.

At the top of the legislative pay scale–$130,056–are legislative leaders: Assembly Speaker Fabian N

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