California Gov. Jerry Brown, center, displays signed legislation authorizing initial construction of California’s $68 billion high-speed rail line at Los Angeles’ Union Station Wednesday, July 18, 2012
The California Legislature is not in session for a summer recess.
The California Assembly has adjourned until August 6, 2012 and the California State Senate is also in adjournment.
On to today’s California headlines:
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg announced plans Wednesday for a one-year pay freeze for Senate employees, but the move comes in the wake of a recent pay hike for hundreds of the chamber’s aides.
The proposed Senate pay freeze also comes as most state workers are taking a nearly 5 percent pay cut as part of budget cuts designed to save the cash-starved state government billions of dollars.
Steinberg plans to ask the Senate Rules Committee to approve the pay freeze at its next meeting Aug. 1, said Rhys Williams, Steinberg spokesman. The action would take effect immediately. The freeze would not affect pay raises tied to promotions.
Assembly administrator Jon Waldie said that his chamber has no plans to announce a pay freeze, but it will continue to respond to California’s budget crisis by trimming and transferring 15 percent of its budget to other state agencies. This year, $22 million will be sent, Waldie said.
The California Assembly has awarded raises to roughly 150 legislative staffers this year, even as lawmakers voted to cut pay for most state workers to help balance the state budget.
Although officials declined to provide exact figures late Wednesday, they said the pay hikes affected about 60 Assembly employees who were reclassified and about 90 workers who had not received merit raises for at least three years.
Most of the increases were between 3% and 5%, with those on the lower end of the salary scale receiving the largest pay increases, said Jon Waldie, chief administrative officer of the Assembly.
A list of Assembly staffers’ salaries can be found on the chamber’s website.
The raises are part of a policy established by Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles) in December, when roughly a quarter of the lower house’s employees received pay increases. Most of those workers had not received raises for at least three years. Lawmakers must request the raises for their employees and pay for the increases with their own office budgets.
“It’s a policy that’s sound,” Waldie said. The raises “are going to people who haven’t had increases in three years.”
The City Council took what several members called the hardest decision of their professional lives Wednesday, formally declaring a state of fiscal emergency and directing staff to file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection.
The two votes, both 5-2, came eight days after the council first voted to allow City Attorney James F. Penman to file for bankruptcy protection to help it escape a $45million deficit and a shortage of cash on hand that officials said would leave them unable to pay employees Aug. 15.
The intervening week brought heavy attention to the issue from across the nation and particularly in San Bernardino, and council members said they had been flooded with messages.
The week of information and attention shifted two votes: Councilman Fred Shorett, who voted against filing last week, approved it Wednesday, while Councilman John Valdivia switched from abstaining to opposing. Councilman Chas Kelley continued to oppose bankruptcy.
“The horse is out of the barn – the whole world knows we’re insolvent,” Shorett said. “I will be supporting going forward with Chapter 9 and fiscal emergency.”
Many of those who spoke to the council said moving forward with bankruptcy was the only responsible position, but they criticized how the city has gotten to this point.
The last three large California cities to seek bankruptcy protection or announce they plan to had seen their housing values, tax revenue and employment crumble. They also have something else in common: They all are so-called charter cities.
Now another California city, Compton, says it may have to file for bankruptcy by September. It, too, is a charter city. Some say that’s no coincidence.
Of the state’s 482 cities, 121 have their own constitutions, or charters. That gives them more leeway in governing their affairs, including the freedom to set their own rules about elections, salaries and contracts.
At a ceremony in Los Angeles, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Wednesday morning to allocate $7.9 billion to the California High-Speed Rail, committing the state to the project despite poor prospects for future funding.
This initial round of funding was in doubt up until the Legislature’s final vote this month. Critics of the high-speed rail plan have blasted it for rising costs, for unrealistic ridership projections and for barreling through homes, businesses and prime Central Valley farmland.
In the end, however, just enough legislative Democrats supported the plan, saying the state faced a greater risk if it didn’t move forward with construction, even though the state doesn’t know how it will pay for the entire project, which is now pegged at $68 billion. No Republicans in the Legislature supported the funding.
On Wednesday, Brown, a vocal supporter of the high-speed rail, praised the project for its economic impact.
“This legislation will help put thousands of people in California back to work,” Brown said in a prepared statement. “By improving regional transportation systems, we are investing in the future of our state and making California a better place to live and work.”
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