By Darren E. Weiss

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger wants the best and the brightest to help him run California, and he has found just the way to do it—boosting their wages.

Gov. Schwarzenegger announced Tuesday his plan for pay raises—as high as 27 percent to over 50 percent—of California’s top state officials. The plan comes in response to competitive city and county governments that pay more for equivalent positions, making it difficult for the state to attract and retain the most talented and well-qualified managers.

The governor’s raises will encompass 52 Cabinet secretaries and department directors, and will cost up to $1 million. They will take effect April 1, 2008, but will reportedly not mean increased costs for taxpayers.

“The raises are budget neutral,” Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear said. “Each department will look within their own budget, from their existing salary budget. [These departments] will have to readjust in order to adjust these salaries.”

Last year, the state legislature granted the governor unilateral power to increase wages as high as $258,125. However, this move comes at a strange time, amidst Schwarzenegger’s pleas for decreased spending and an end to continual budget deficits.

The directors of ten agencies and four departments–health services, mental health, social services, and developmental services–will all receive raises of at least 23 percent, increasing their annual salaries to over $165,000. The largest raise will go to the director of the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Ruben Grijalva. His salary will rise 27 percent, from $133,732 to $169,500.

California’s Department of Personnel Administration (DPA) is responsible for setting the raises based on a study comparing wages in other large California government agencies. The study found that Grijalva was making 62 percent of what fire chiefs elsewhere in the state were making. After the raise, he will be making 79 percent of comparable salaries.

Terri Delgadillo, director of the state Department of Developmental Services will also receive a hefty raise justified by the DPA’s study. She currently makes $133,732 while serving over 200,000 persons with disabilities. By contrast, 16 of the 21 California regional center directors make more than her, each with a considerably smaller caseload.

Communications Director for the DPA Lynelle Jolley said the raises have no effect on top executives in the UC or CSU systems, citing their already high salaries equally compared to officials working in the executive branch of the state government.

Still, most state employees are not considered “top officials,” and will not receive wage increases as part of this push.

According to Jolley, more than 200,000 of California’s state workers will have their salaries decided at the bargaining table. “Most of them have contracts that already provided increases last year and will provide another one this year,” she said. Most rank-and-file state workers are expected to get a raise of 3.3 percent this July, a good deal below the seven to 27 percent boost their managers will collect.

However, not all state employees have collective bargaining rights in their contracts. Tim Behrens, president of the Association of California State Supervisors (ACSS) represents 5,000 “excluded employees.” The ACSS, he said, generally supports Schwarzenegger’s plan because it will open a window of opportunity and raise the glass ceiling that has kept down the salaries of excluded mangers and supervisors. Incomes of excluded employees have increased by a mere eight percent in the last eight years. Behrens thinks this is not enough.

“We’re on the low end of the totem pole,” he said. “It’s great that the governor has finally recognized that he wants to keep competent people to run the state’s business. It’s time he gave something to the rest of the state’s management team.”