San Jose leaders put off Sam Liccardo’s pay proposal

San Jose elected leaders on Wednesday put off a vote on Mayor Sam Liccardo’s request to reject his raise and allocate a portion of the pay bump to two of his social initiatives.

The council’s Rules and Open Government Committee — which is chaired by Liccardo — voted unanimously to defer sending the mayor’s proposal to the full City Council for at least two weeks. The delay would give city leaders an opportunity to analyze other options for Liccardo to turn down the raise without forcing his fellow colleagues to vote on it.

Liccardo was poised to receive a whopping $58,000 raise, set by a 3-member city commission, raising his annual salary from $132,000 to $190,000. The same commission set $28,000 raises for the 10 other councilmembers, bumping their yearly pay from $97,000 to $125,000.

But a day after the commission voted unanimously to accept the raises, Liccardo publicly rejected the raise and recommended he receive no more than 3 percent annually for the duration of his term. On Wednesday, he amended his proposal to request that the “saved expenditures” from his raise instead go to the San Jose Promise and San Jose Works programs each year.

Liccardo’s public denial of his raise was met with scrutiny by many of his colleagues, who told San José Spotlight that they’ll accept their $28,000 raises. Some councilmembers are forced to work second jobs to afford the high cost-of-living in San Jose, and some even struggle to continue living in the districts they represent.

San Jose lawmakers Wednesday pondered whether Liccardo rejecting his raise undermined the spirit of Measure U, a 2018 ballot initiative approved by voters that ensured elected leaders do not vote on their own salaries. By rejecting the raise, Liccardo put the decision back into the hands of lawmakers.

“We haven’t even gotten this off the (ground) and I feel like we’re devaluing the investment that we made with our voters to listen to them in terms of what they wanted to say about our salaries,” said Councilmember Sylvia Arenas during the meeting Wednesday. “It feels like we’re undoing what we did last year and that investment is void if this goes back to council.”

City Attorney Rick Doyle said Measure U allows lawmakers to adopt an ordinance to reduce their pay. They would be required to adopt two separate measures — one to reduce Liccardo’s pay and another to collectively reduce the councilmembers’ salaries.

“They took away the authority to increase our salaries. They did not take away the authority to decrease them,” Liccardo added.

But Arenas fired back by saying Liccardo could accept the raise and then donate a portion of his salary to charity, as former Mayor Chuck Reed did.

“I’d rather not be paying taxes on a salary I’m not drawing,” Liccardo responded. “It would be a self-burden.”

Councilmember Dev Davis agreed with Arenas, saying city elected leaders supported Measure U in an effort to “de-politicize” the issue of lawmakers giving themselves a raise.

“I think it sets a bad precedent and sets up an expectation from the public that this would happen every time,” Davis said, adding that she spoke to a city commissioner who was “dejected” that Liccardo publicly declined the raise set by the commission.

The mayor’s proposal — which didn’t pass on Wednesday — had suggested the $50,000 in savings be split evenly between the two initiatives.

Liccardo launched the two programs early in his first term as mayor. The San Jose Promise, which he announced in March 2017, covers up to two years of community college costs — tuition, fees, books, materials and transportation — for up to 800 low-income students.

The San Jose Works program, unveiled two months after Liccardo took office in March 2015, is designed to help reduce youth unemployment by bringing together businesses, nonprofits and city departments to provide job opportunities to more than 1,200 youth in gang-impacted areas.

San Jose lawmakers will revisit Liccardo’s proposal to reject his raise in two weeks.

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