Looking Behind the Scenes: Pay cut gets legislators scurrying

By: Jim Ruffalo
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Preparing the notebook for a new year while betting that our politically correct Governator will never call new Assembly Speaker John Perez “girlie man.” It will also be interesting to find out just where Perez stands in regard to the ongoing court action instigated by our warm and wonderful legislators who are trying to get a judge to rescind their recent salary and benefit cuts. You may recall that back in May, the California Citizens Compensation Commission imposed an 18 percent pay cut on those elected officials. That cut, which would reduce salaries from $116,208 to $95,291, was supposed to go into effect this month. But those legislators, who simply cannot make ends meet on a paltry $95K per annum, rushed nearly en-masse to court to plead their case. A check with the National Conference of State Legislators shows that California’s are the highest-paid in the country. New York, which could make a case for higher salaries, pays its legislators $79,500 per year. Meanwhile, our legislators insist the commission exceeded its authority, also claiming that the slashed paychecks were caused by budgetary problems instead of constitutional criteria. Auburn’s Kathy Sands, a member of the commission, said she was “disappointed” at the attempt to halt the cuts. “Our actions weren’t capricious,” she said, adding that the commission “worked long and hard” in arriving at its decision. She finds the legislators’ race into a courtroom reprehensible. “They should have volunteered the cuts,” she said. And now that the slashes have been made, she wonders why those elected folks feel they don’t have to “share in the cuts that (other state employees) had to accept.” Sands said the commission was proud of its work, and had the backing of the governor and then-Assembly Speaker Karen Bass. She said the commission also forwarded its work-product to Attorney General Jerry Brown to see if it passed legal muster. Brown continues to back the commission’s verdict, and has refused to help the Legislature in its legal battle. If you think about it, those greedy folk ought to be thankful the commission didn’t decide to pay them whet they’re worth. But had that happened, we’d just be back in court again over minimum-wage issues. “We knew we had the legal authority to cut their pay, but we weren’t sure about cutting their benefits by a similar 18-percent,” Sands said. Sands said she also thinks the Legislature needs to have its per diem pay rate examined and cut. “We found there were more than 420 meetings (in 2008) at $174 per meeting per member. That’s just too much money for that,” she said, insisting that the commission wasn’t out “to punish them,” but, instead, to reach some level of fairness. Hopefully, the commission will next look into the per diem racket the legislators use for living expenses. In the meantime, Sands says she finds it “odd that the Legislature feels it doesn’t have to accept the same sacrifices as does everybody else.” Actually, it isn’t odd at all. It’s just business as usual in this “let-them-eat-cake” world. ... Union news: Slowly, like truth trying to defrost its way into global warming research, Auburn’s city unions are sorting out their part of the world. It was months ago I wrote that city workers were attempting to decertify Local 39 as their representation. Now it’s been discovered that Local 39 dragged its heels, claiming that Auburn had two segments of that local and thus filed erroneous papers in an attempt to decertify. A recent meeting finally sorted that out, and now transit workers and public works employees are to be separate bargaining units, although I’m told public works probably will continue its attempt to exit. The transit workers — which includes bus drivers, clerical workers and city planners — has made no movement to exit Local 39, while Public Works has installed Chris Williamson as its lead, is continuing to review all options. I tried contacting Local 39 representative Kevin O’Hare, a move that has always proved futile in the past. This time, there’s a reason because Local 39 says he no longer works there, which means there’s an unused cellphone now available for somebody else. City Manager Bob Richardson was of little help, insisting that he could not comment until the union and the employees reach some sort of agreement. Meanwhile, there reportedly is other news in regard to the Auburn Police Officers Association, although — again — nobody wants to go on the record with developments. Still, people whom I trust insist that the APD’s contingent of sergeants is bailing out of the APOA and will form its own minuscule bargaining group. And as for the Auburn Firefighters Association, it appears those bravest will sit still until new negotiations open in March. Jim Ruffalo’s column runs Sundays in the Journal. Reach him at