Six-figure salaries don’t make sense amid trying times

Last Tuesday the Senate Government Organization Committee voted down a bill proposed by Sen. Tony Strickland (R-Moorpark) to cut salaries for state commissioners.

Commissioners that sit on any of the more than 300 commissions and boards in the State of California receive salaries of up to $128,000 yearly, though Strickland’s SB 153 focused on a handful of the most highly-paid (and inactive) boards.

Strickland’s bill, which would instead pay commissioners a flat rate $100 a day, was turned down by the Democratic majority.

The issue of commissioner pay is a point of ire for many; especially considering the State’s current financial crisis and the fact that many of the most highly paid officials – many of them retired legislators – are also the most lax in their duties.

Strickland condemned the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board, which met just 14 times in 2010, even though the board members (a majority of them Republican) are paid $128,109 annually.

From the California Performance Review (a government agency), an evaluation of boards and commissions in their latest volume reveals jarring realities of waste:

Some of these boards are highly paid, earning salaries of more than $100,000 a year for only a few meetings. In fact, the 17 boards and commissions whose members are the highest paid cost the state more than $9 million in board member salaries alone.

And that’s not the half of it; the CPR report only covered those boards and commissions that it was aware of at the time. The report goes on to admit that:

Within the executive branch of state government, there are more than 300 boards, commissions, panels, task forces, committees and other appointed bodies. These entities are so scattered and numerous across government that arriving at a firm number is nearly impossible. In our search, there was no single source we could turn to find out which commissions existed and why. In fact, state government has no master list of all boards and commissions and the thousands of political appointees that populate them.

While boards and commissions requiring appointment by the Governor or legislative leaders are fairly easy to catalogue, many boards and commissions are appointed by the heads of agencies, departments—even by other boards and commissions. Throughout our investigation new entities were routinely discovered. No doubt, appointed bodies remain deeply buried within the state government structure that we did not find. When they are located, they too will warrant direct evaluation.

This implies that there are untold millions floating in the system, just out in the ether, that could be spent in far more useful, constructive and visible ways.

Californians cannot afford to pay for non-existent services – so why are commissioners being paid six-figure salaries regardless of this economic reality?

We’re talking about public workers, people who are funded by the taxpayers to serve the public good. How much good can a board or committee do when they only meet two weeks out of a 365-day fiscal year?

It sounds self-serving, but why award state commissioners such handsome salaries when that money could be more useful to the people of California if it was channeled into something actually useful?

What about education, which has seen some of the most devastating budget cuts in recent memory? (I can think of a lot of cut classes that would’ve been saved with that $9 million.)

This isn’t an attack on public service – indeed, many members of these government agencies, commissions and boards volunteer or work by the hour.

But in concerns to the upper echelons of the California government pay grade, the fact that these officials are receiving so much money for comparatively modest work hours whilst the rest of the state is tightening its belt (and in the case of education and other social programs, losing the proverbial arm and a leg) – it’s a bitter pill to swallow.