Salary Limits on California Ballot

By Bill Montague — September 24, 1986 3 min read

Education officials in California are mobilizing to stop a ballot initiative that would limit the salaries and benefits of thousands of teachers, school administrators, and other public employees.

Opponents of the measure, known as Proposition 61, say it would play havoc with the compensation policies of state colleges and school districts, damaging their efforts to compete with other states and the private sector in recruiting qualified personnel.

Critics also warn that the initiative would force local governments and the state to spend billions of dollars to repay public employees for unused vacation and sick leave.

A coalition of education and public employee groups, Gov. George Deukmejian, and his Democratic opponent, Mayor Thomas Bradley of Los Angeles, oppose the measure.

“In my estimation, it will derail I our efforts to reform and rebuild California schools,” said Bill Honig, the state superintendent of public instruction.

Paul Gann, a retired businessman, I self-styled populist, and early leader of the tax revolt that shook state and municipal governments in the late 1970’s, is sponsoring the proposal.

Mr. Gann’s latest proposal would forbid government agencies-including school districts-from paying any employee more than 80 percent of the governor’s salary, which would be pegged at $80,000.

It would also forbid public employees from accumulating vacation and sick leave from year to year-a common practice in California.

All told, Mr. Gann claims the initiative would save taxpayers more than $100 million a year in salary and retirement costs. The state legislature’s top budget analyst has estimated savings of approximately $125 million.

Opponents, however, cite other additional costs, which they claim would have a heavy impact on the state’s school districts and more than offset any savings.

“The worst-case scenario is $7 billion for the entire state,” said William L. Rukeyser, a spokesman for the state department of education. “Even the best-case scenario still runs into the billions of dollars,” according to the analysis prepared for the state legislature, he said.

Under California law, Mr. Rukeyser said, public employees are “vested” in their accrued vacation time, meaning it is regarded as their property. If Proposition 61 passes, he said, school districts will have to allocate millions of dollars each year to buy back the time.

The right of employees to their sick leave is less clear, Mr. Rukeyser said, and probably will have to be settled in the courts. Currently, he said, state and local agencies eventually recoup most accrued sick leave, because employees cannot cash it out when they retire.

Loss of accrued sick leave would present the more serious problem to the state’s school districts, Mr. Rukeyser said, because vacation pay for teachers is included in their pro- I rated summer salaries.

Ted Costa, an assistant to Mr. Gann, rejected the state’s cost estimates, calling them “arbitrary and blown out of proportion. " The accrued vacation and sick leave, he contended, is an existing debt that will have to be paid eventually, whether or not Proposition 61 passes.

“They are diverting the argument from the key issue here, which is the pay cap,” said Mr. Costa.

But the impact of the proposition’s $64,000 pay cap is also disputed. The measure’s wording, opponents say, would apply that limit to all compensation, including pension and health benefits. According to Mr. Costa, only salaries would be included.

mean a base-pay limit of about I $49,000 and would drastically increase the number of employees affected by the dispute, Mr. Rukeyser said. The average salary of superintendents of the state’s unified school I districts, Mr. Rukeyser pointed out, is $59,000. With the state already facing a “retirement bulge” among top school administrators, he argued, the pay cap would make it even harder to fill those positions.

A version of this article appeared in the September 24, 1986 edition of Education Week as Salary Limits on California Ballot