Never let it be said that the Legislature does nothing to raise Californians' incomes as we struggle to recover from the Great Recession.
No, of course we aren't talking about the incomes of regular Californians. Median household income has been stagnant or worse since 2007, according to the latest available evidence. The unemployment rate here, though improving, is the nation's fourth-worst.
But our lawmakers have raised the salaries of one group -- their staff members.
The Sacramento Bee reported last week that as the economic picture brightened slightly in 2013, legislators wasted no time helping out capitol employees.
The Assembly staff's raises have brought the lower house's payroll up $1.2 million (about 2.5 percent) since May 2011 for full-time employees. The Senate staff's pay hikes were smaller last year but overall have increased the upper house's payroll by $3.1 million (about 5 percent) since mid-2011.
Then there are the legislators themselves. The highest-paid group of state lawmakers in the country began to reverse their recession-time pay cuts by receiving a 5 percent raise in December, and they're eligible for another raise this spring from the independent commission that sets their compensation.
While we're at it, here's another snapshot of capitol employment: The overall size and cost of the state workforce has stayed about the same since Gov. Jerry Brown returned to office in 2011. But departments have shrunk and grown, depending largely on Brown's political priorities. It should surprise nobody to learn that the staff of the California High-Speed Rail Authority (116 people) and its payroll ($7 million) nearly tripled last year and would grow again under Brown's next budget.
No, these raises won't break the bank, but there's a symbolic principle here. Too many Californians and California businesses continue to struggle. Too many private-sector workers are going without raises. Setting aside the question of how much the policies set by the Legislature are responsible for the state's economic woes, it's unseemly for the officers of the ship to prosper while the passengers are climbing into the lifeboats.
The Legislature's argument for giving the raises to staffers, including eight of the 10 Assembly employees earning more than $175,000 a year, is that it's necessary to prevent them from leaving for more lucrative jobs; they're just too valuable to lose.
We can't help but wonder what such a tragedy would look like.
Would it mean legislators would have to draft their own bills? Or actually understand the budget implications of their own proposals? Or, gasp, actually read legislation proposed by their colleagues?
But it also makes us ponder another question: If these political aides are so valuable, shouldn't they have a better sense of how this will look to the voters?