Local Politics

Monday, Dec 02 2013 06:28 PM

Kern lawmakers turning away extra pay

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    State Sen. Andy Vidak

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    State Assemblyman Rudy Salas speaks in this file photo.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    State Assemblywoman Shannon Grove

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    State Senator Jean Fuller.

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BY CHRISTINE BEDELL Californian staff writer cbedell@bakersfield.com

Kern County's state legislators are largely eschewing the pay raises that just took effect for them and a slew of other lawmakers, with one saying flat-out they don't deserve the money.

State Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford, and Assemblyman Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield, say they will donate their extra pay to charity.

Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, says she's refusing the pay bump, but she hasn't made it onto an official list of those doing so being kept by the state controller's office.

A spokeswoman for state Sen. Jean Fuller, R-Bakersfield, said her boss was unavailable for comment Monday on her plans for the money.

California lawmakers received a 5.3 percent pay raise effective Sunday, something approved by the citizen panel that determines state officials' compensation.

The base salary for most legislators is going from $90,526 to $95,291 -- still below the $116,208 that lawmakers received in 2007, before their pay was cut during California's budget crises.

Many rank-and-file state workers are receiving pay hikes of 4.5 percent phased in through July 2015.

As of close of business Wednesday, seven Assembly members and four state senators had officially turned down the raise to Controller John Chiang's office, the office said Monday. None represents Kern County.

Kristina Brown, a spokeswoman for Grove, said the Bakersfield assemblywoman was exploring her options before sending the letter declining the raise to the controller's office Monday.

"California legislators are already the highest paid in the nation and have an embarrassingly low approval rating," Grove said in a statement. "Does anyone honestly think the Legislature deserves a raise after all the ridiculous bills passed this year? We should be working hard to demonstrate that we're responsible stewards of taxpayer money, and accepting this pay increase is not the way to go about it."

Vidak announced Nov. 26 that he was donating his pay raise to food banks in Bakersfield (Community Action Partnership of Kern), Fresno, Hanford and Dinuba.

The food banks will receive quarterly payments of $300 each, Vidak said in a news release. He is scheduled to personally deliver a check to Community Action Partnership in Bakersfield Tuesday.

"The Fresno Community Food Bank, for example, says it can turn each $1 donation into nine meals, so I'm hoping this quarterly donation can help feed many families struggling to put food on the table here in our Central Valley," he said in the news release.

Food banks are stretched thin these days. Need always goes up around the holidays and changes to the federal food stamp program are putting less money in recipients' pockets.

Salas, the Bakersfield assemblyman, released a statement Monday evening saying he will donate his extra pay to charity, too. He didn't elaborate.

"I plan on using the Citizens Panel's recommendation for the restoration of funds to donate towards more local community projects and student programs that I am involved with throughout the district," his statement said.

Lawmakers have until the third week in December to notify the controller's office that they plan to decline the pay raise, spokesman Jacob Roper said.

The commission had cut elected state officials' salaries by 23 percent since 2008. But in June, citing the state's rosier financial situation, the panel announced raises for legislators and 11 others, including the governor, lieutenant governor, treasurer, attorney general and controller.

-- The Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.

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