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California Suffers, Politican Drives $54K Caddy

California
CNBC.com
California

As California's finances continue to go down in flames, don't expect a fire hose from Washington.

An Obama Administration official tells the Washington Postthat Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and others fear the consequences of helping California: other states will demand equal treatment. The feds believe the Golden State still has time to set solve its $24 billion projected gap on its own before running out of cash in six weeks. However, according to the Post, the administration might step in if the situation "significantly deteriorates".

So how close is California to solving its own problems?

After days of caucusing loudly behind closed doors, Democratic legislators who control both houses in Sacramento, emerged yesterday with a plan that only solves some of the $24 billion gap, combining cuts with taxes, including a $15 per car levy to keep open state parks. The Governor and his fellow Republicans insist the entire $24 billion problem must be solved now, and cuts are the only thing voters will tolerate.

But what kind of sacrifices are legislators willing to make to their own salaries? State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, a Democrat, is cutting his pay 5 percent and has encouraged others to do the same. He makes $133,000 a year, plus generous healthcare and retirement benefits and tax-free per diem. California legislators are the highest paid in the nation, with a base salary of $116,000. The Census Bureau says the median income in the Golden State is $64,000.

But wait! There's more!

The Los Angeles Times reveals that taxpayershave also been shelling out about $1 million a year to buy and maintain cars for legislators to use in their home districts, as well as cover the cost of gasoline. That includes a $54,830 Cadillac STS for State Senator Ron Calderon. At least he's buying American!

The California Citizens Compensation Commission is thinking of slashing such benefits. This same commission voted to cut legislators' pay by 18 percent, except, by law, those cuts can't take affect during current legislative terms. It's not clear if the commission could cut the car benefits during this current term either, but it's something the commission's chairman, Charles Murray, would like to do. "I personally think it's ludicrous," Murray tells the Times. "You have guys out of work, people losing their jobs, departments downsizing, and they [legislators] are saying, 'Look at me in my STS.'"

Meantime, an update on who is going to foot the bill for the Lakers parade tomorrow. The city of Los Angeles is facing a $500 million deficit and many officials balked at the $2 million cost of a parade. Now it looks like the private sector is stepping up to cover most of it. The Lakers organization and Philip Anschutz's AEG, which owns the Staples Center, will pay half. Another 25 percent will come from wealthy private individuals. This afternoon we should learn from the Mayor how much, if any, taxpayers will be left to pay.

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