Sam Liccardo to waive hefty salary increase, ending contentious debate
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo delivers his State of the City address in this file photo.

San Jose elected officials on Wednesday escaped the uncomfortable predicament of voting on Mayor Sam Liccardo’s $58,000 raise, putting to rest an ongoing disagreement between the mayor and his colleagues, who broke with Liccardo to accept their raises.

Liccardo said Wednesday that he’ll sign the waiver to reduce his salary increase to 3 percent, instead of $58,000, which was nearly a 30 percent bump in salary. The mayor earns about $132,000 per year now.

The council’s Rules and Open Government Committee, which is chaired by Liccardo, was advised by City Attorney Rick Doyle this week that Liccardo could decline his pay increase — without a public vote — simply by signing a waiver. The waiver outlines strict requirements: It must be in writing, it’s irreversible, specifies how much of the salary is being waived for a given time period and must be submitted before the city’s annual budget is approved.

If no waiver is signed, the pay increases stand and would go into effect July 1.

“The irrevocable waiver is specific to only the individual making the waiver and does not result in a reduction of the base salaries that were set by the Commission,” Doyle said in a statement. “Thus, the base salaries set by the Salary Setting Commission would remain unchanged for the five-year period.”

The mayor’s public rejection of the hefty raise sparked a dispute among City Council members, many of whom said they’re underpaid and accepted their $28,000 pay increase. Some council members said the pay increase would encourage qualified candidates to run for office, and others said they work second jobs to afford the high cost-of-living in Silicon Valley.

One council member — who was recently forced out of his home — discussed the difficulty of finding an affordable place to live.

Liccardo’s move to deny the raise also prompted criticism by some lawmakers who said it undermined Measure U — a 2018 voter-approved ballot measure that removed councilmembers from the salary setting process. The mayor, along with 86 percent of voters, supported the measure, which empowered a city commission to set salaries without a vote from the City Council.

Liccardo gave several reasons for declining the increase.

The mayor said the salary increase was unfair to city employees who only earned a 3 percent raise and that the city’s budget could not support that type of raise. Alternatively, he proposed a 3 percent increase for himself next year, falling in line with other city employee raises. Raises for the remainder of Liccardo’s term will align with cost-of-living increases, not to exceed 4.5 percent.

Two weeks ago, Liccardo suggested donating a portion of his raise to two youth programs — San Jose Promise and San Jose Works — but that wasn’t a viable option.

Liccardo can’t donate his salary if he decides not to accept the raise, city officials said, but there are other ways he can fund the two programs — one being the budget, which will be voted on in June.

“If you want to donate your salary, you have to claim it as income and then you can donate it. We can donate our money as long as we’re taxed on it,” said Councilmember Johnny Khamis, who sits on the committee that discussed the issue. “The mayor has the power to channel money to anything he wants. He ultimately controls the budget and can decide at any time to devote any amount of dollars to those organizations.”  

Contact Nadia Lopez at nadia@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @n_llopez on Twitter.

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