In tough budget times, should our leaders lead by example?

150 150 Cheryl Getuiza

There’s no denying it: many municipalities throughout California are going through a period of drastic belt-tightening in their budgets.  There have been hundreds of layoffs and many programs have gotten the axe.

So, how then, when there appears to be no end to these financial woes, are local politicians—many of whom we elected into office—not looking at their own paychecks as targets for potential savings? 

There’s a ballot measure in San Bernardino County that could reduce Supervisors pay by 73 percent. But Supervisors are thinking of putting a competing measure that would keep their pay in line with nearby counties.

The county’s two largest employee unions: the San Bernardino Public Employees Association and the San Bernardino Safety Employees Benefit Association spent a lot of time and money to get the measure on the ballot. If approved by voters, supervisors’ pay would be slashed from $152,000 to $60,000. Their combined staff budget would also be cut from $6 million to $1.5 million.

Representatives told the Press-Enterprise “county supervisors had delegated many responsibilities to staff and therefore should be reduced to part-time status.”

The supervisors’ competing measure would calculate pay according to the average salaries in Riverside, Orange, San Diego and Los Angeles.

Supervisor Janice Rutherford told the Press-Enterprise the county’s proposal “sets a fair compensation package through a transparent process.”

 “This is an attempt to give voters, our bosses, the responsibility for setting our salaries and benefits in a way that can’t be gamed by either politicians or union leaders,” said Rutherford.

The Board of Supervisors pay did take a slight hit in January. The cut their benefits about $121,000, that’s 39%. This came after a study was released stating theirs were the second highest in the region, behind L.A.

At California Forward, we’ve kept a close eye on this issue.  We believe government needs to be closer to the people and the only way this happens is when people get involved to ensure local governments are making decisions to better serve their communities.

 San Bernardino is not the first to address this issue. Recently we wrote about the city of Indian Wells.  The fate of council members’ pay will be up to the voters who will have two measures, as well, to decide to slash paychecks or keep as is.

In the meantime, state lawmakers gave over half their staffers pay raises over the last 12 months while the state Senate pledges to implement a one year pay freeze.  

“To announce a pay freeze after all the raises have been given is like closing the vault door after the bank has been robbed,” Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association told the Sacramento Bee recently.

And who can forget this story: several California State University presidents will be getting pay hikes.

Diane Harrison at CSU Northridge will earn about $325,000; Tomas Morales at CSU San Bernardino will get $319,000; and Leslie Wong of San Francisco State will earn $324,000. This is all in addition to their benefits.

Pay hikes during times of financial crises don’t sit well with the electorate. How has this message not gotten across democratically at this point?

When so many sacrifices are being made, is it time for our leaders to do the same? We will be watching these issues closely.


Cheryl Getuiza

All stories by: Cheryl Getuiza