California Assembly to consider executive salary bill

CALIFORNIA — A bill in the state legislature aimed at increasing the transparency of specified public university executives’ compensation is another step closer to the governor’s desk.

An Assembly committee this week unanimously passed SB 190, known as the Higher Education Governance Accountability Act.

Authored by Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), the measure requires all compensation packages for executives at the University of California and California State University systems to be voted on in open sessions.

It defines “executives” as the chancellor of the California State University, presidents of individual campuses, vice chancellors, treasurers or assistant treasurers, general counsel, and trustees’ secretaries.

The bill also closes a loophole in the current open-meetings law that allows advisory committees to discuss compensation in closed meetings.

“We have one final vote before the governor can end the culture of secrecy at UC and CSU,” Yee said in a statement from his office. “SB 190 will bring much-needed sunshine to executive compensation discussions, provide members of the media the democratic access they deserve and help restore the public’s trust.”

The bill follows a series of audits and lawsuits at the public institutions after they failed to get public approval from the regents or trustees for compensation packages and some top executives were paid more than the figure released to the public.

Officials at the University of California have consistently opposed the bill, saying they have already taken measures to increase transparency, according to media reports.

In a letter mailed to Yee last year, university officials said “debating in public … will not make the university an attractive place for talented people to come,” presumably because desirable candidates would not want to see their compensation discussed in public, according to an April article in The Daily Bruin, the student newspaper at the University of California at Los Angeles.

But the California Newspaper Publishers Association wrote a letter in February to support the bill, saying that it would “bring a new level of sunshine and accountability to the compensation decisions of the University of California Regents and the California State University Board of Trustees for their high-level public employees.”

Yee also introduced legislation that was signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in August 2006 explicitly prohibiting censorship of college student newspapers.

The state Senate unanimously passed the measure in April. The bill now awaits a vote by the full Assembly before being sent to Gov. Schwarzenegger (R).