KPCC's Shirley Jahad speaks with Marc Haefele about a hefty raise being given to Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley.
Shirley Jahad: Good afternoon. This is All Things Considered. I'm Shirley Jahad here on 89.3, KPCC. I'm here with Marc Haefele, dean of the city hall reporters. Hi, Marc.
Marc Haefele: Hi, Shirley.
Jahad: Well Marc, counties all across California are quivering over the likely massive budget cuts coming from the state, initiated by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in light of this fiscal crisis we're in. And in the heat of this climate, one of the most prominent people in count government in Los Angeles just scored a fat pay increase.
Haefele: That would be District Attorney Steve Cooley, who managed to pick up a $55,000 pay increase over his two hundred and thirty thousand something extant salary. A lot of people are wondering, is this the kind of example we want to set in the face of enormous cutbacks to come?
Jahad: So that brings the salary for the L.A. County District Attorney up close to $300,000, making him one of the highest paid local elected officials anywhere, right?
Haefele: Or highest paid national officials anywhere. The Chief Justice of the United States only makes $212,000, and that's a pretty important legal job.
Jahad: So the Board of Supervisors voted this week and approved this pay increase. How are county officials justifying it?
Haefele: The reason given by Los Angeles County Chief Executive Officer Bill Fujioka is very simple. He says the D.A. now makes less money than his opposite number, the county public defender. That would be Michael Judge. He says, we have to pay the D.A. more than the public defender. The problem with this reasoning to me is, Michael Judge only makes $395 a year more than the D.A. does, so why not give the D.A. a $500 a year increase instead of a $55,000 a year increase?
Jahad: So did any of the county supervisors ask Fujioka about that?
Haefele: This went down without a murmur. The board had no objection to this. The biggest stink about it was raised by our old friends, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. And their spokesman made a really interesting point. You're going to be calling upon people to make sacrifices, you're going to be calling upon county workers to expect less raises, and what an example you're setting here by giving a guy who's an elected official a $55,000 raise that he doesn't even seem to have asked for.
Jahad: Interestingly, this seems to be part of a bigger, broader effort by the new county CEO, Fujioka, to give big pay increases to many of the top officials in county government.
Haefele: The reasoning here is basically to somehow bring all the increases in line. Some managers were making hardly any more than their subordinates, there'd been an erratic pattern of this.
Jahad: And again, this is part of a broader effort across the county. The supervisors recently approved salary increases for more than a thousand managers in the county, right?
Haefele: That was part of the year end clearance on pay raises. It comes at a really ugly time, Shirley. It comes at a time when government is going to have to ask the nearly hundred thousand county employees to cut back their aspirations, to expect fewer increases. Fifty-five thousand dollars doesn't necessarily make a big dent in a county budget in the tens of billions, but it's enough to hire a new sheriff's deputy, say, for instance. It's enough to hire a couple of assistant librarians. It's enough to make big difference in terms of the services of one or another county locality.
I think the government of the county of Los Angeles, by giving this money to a guy who doesn't need it, is showing a certain contempt for the rank and file county employees, for the voters who put them into office, and an oblivious contempt for the people who depend on county serves that are going to be in such short supply in the years to come, the county's poor and needy people.
Jahad: Thank you very much, Marc.
Haefele: Thank you, Shirley.
Jahad: We've been talking with Marc Haefele. He is dean of the city hall reporters. I am Shirley Jahad.