Getting paid without working

The leave of absence given to state Senators Ron Calderón and Roderick Wright has put the Senate’s Democratic supermajority in an awkward situation. It also brings up the question of why these two lawmakers are still receiving their salaries, since one was convicted of a felony and the other was charged with 24 federal counts of corruption on the job.

Yesterday Calderón decided to temporarily step aside to take care of his problems. According to the Democrat from Montebello, it will take him until August to resolve charges that he accepted money—including from undercover FBI agents—in return for supporting specific language in legislative bills.

This means that despite everything, Calderón will continue to receive his salary of more than $95,000 per year during the six months he will be outside Sacramento. Of course, he won’t receive the daily $163 stipend that lawmakers get.

Wright, the senator for Inglewood, was already found guilty of perjury and voter fraud. According to the jury’s decision in January, he should never have been in the Capitol, because he did not live in the district he represented. Like Calderón, Wright will still get paid until the end of his appeal in May.

Therefore, taxpayers are paying the salaries of lawmakers who are not working because of their political shenanigans. Will they return the money they received during this period if their guilt is confirmed? It’s unlikely.

This does not involve an illness or other problems beyond the control of lawmakers, which can prevent them from working. Even in those cases, it is tough to justify continuing a full salary for an indefinite period of time.

It is true that no one is guilty until proven otherwise—in Wright’s case, apparently until the end of the appeal. However, the work of both senators demands steering clear of the perception of fraud and corruption. It is reasonable for Calderón to take a leave of absence. However, it is unacceptable for both of them to continue getting their salaries for a long period, while they work on their own behalf and not for the public.