California has the largest population of any state, and its legislators receive the highest salary of any state's lawmakers. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, California's lawmakers made nearly $16,000 more in 2011 than the next-highest-paid state legislators, those in New York. The California Legislature has two chambers — the 80-member State Assembly and the 40-member Senate. The base pay is the same in each chamber.
As of 2011, members of the California State Assembly earned an annual base salary of $95,291. Four Assembly leaders receive higher salaries. The Assembly speaker, who is chosen by the majority party, and the floor leader of the minority party each earn a salary 15 percent higher than the base — $109,584, as of 2011. The second-ranking leader of each party — the majority party's floor leader and the minority party's caucus chairman — each earn a salary 7.5 percent higher than the base: $102,437, as of 2011.
For each day that legislators are in session and each day that they spend traveling to Sacramento for legislative business, members also receive expense money. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, members received about $142 a day in 2011. Since this money is reimbursement for transportation, lodging and other costs, it's not counted as salary.
California's State Assembly members don't set their own raises directly. Since 1990, the salaries of all elected state officials — including legislators, the governor and lieutenant governor, and other executive officers — have been set by the California Citizens Compensation Commission. This board has seven members, each appointed by the governor to six-year terms. The commission meets every June to decide whether salaries should be adjusted; the Legislature has the option of voting to decline any raise. Changes, if any, take effect in December.
Salary Freezes and Cuts
Salaries don't always go up. The commission can opt to freeze salaries at their current level for a year, and it has done so many times. In addition, a state constitutional amendment approved in 2009 prohibits raises in any year in which the state runs a budget deficit. The commission can even vote to cut salaries. In fact, in 2009, as the state grappled with a budget deficit, the commission cut salaries 18 percent. State Assembly members' base pay fell from $116,208 to $95,291 — lower than it had been at any time in the previous decade.