Who says there is no good news coming out of Sacramento?
Consider this: The chairman of the citizen panel established to set pay rates for the members of the state's Legislature and constitutional officers does not expect either to get a raise this year.
OK, so it is not exactly stunning. And, it is blatant common sense that during economic tough times the highest-paid Legislature in the land should not get a salary increase for work that, by all accounts, the populace considers less than stellar. Still, this is Sacramento and stranger things have happened there.
On Thursday, Thomas Dalzell, the chairman of the California Citizens Compensation Commission, said after a relatively short commission meeting that it is "very unlikely" commissioners would vote to raise the pay of lawmakers when they meet again in June.
By law, the commission can raise the pay of legislators only when the state registers a surplus in the May budget revise, which offers much more reliable budget numbers than the January budget.
The May revise is based more on actual revenues collected from income and other taxes, while the January budget is based more on projections.
But Dalzell said that even if the state does record a surplus in the revised budget, it would "probably be unseemly" to raise legislative pay in the first year of a projected surplus, especially since the economy remains extremely fragile and even volatile.
Bingo. He could not be more right.
From the perspective of the budget, any action by the commission is largely symbolic. The salaries of legislators and constitutional officers are only slightly more than grains of sand in California's massive budget.
Nonetheless, symbolism can be important, especially when it comes to economic sacrifice.
We are certain that most of the people who sent the legislators and constitutional officers to Sacramento aren't getting raises of any significance, but they are finding ways to make things work and feel their elected representatives should do the same.
To be fair, the panel has slashed salaries in the past few years. In the past seven years, the governor's annual pay has dropped from $212,179 to $165,288 and starting salaries for members of the Legislature went from $116,208 to $90,526 in that period. State legislators are also eligible for roughly $30,000 in annual payments for living expenses.
With that said, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, California still has the highest-paid state lawmakers in the country with compensation that dwarfs second-place New York, which pays $79,500.
We also note with interest that other big-budget, large-population states seem to do just fine with lower-salaried legislators. Florida has the fourth-highest population and pays its lawmakers just $29,687 a year, while Texas lawmakers earn just $7,200 a year. They're not isolated cases.
We find it prudent, for the commission is displaying caution on this matter. While it takes no great insight to see that raising the salaries of lawmakers and others now is a bad move, in Sacramento we will take our bits of sanity where we can get them.