By Bob Katzen
THE HOUSE AND SENATE: There were no roll calls in the House and Senate last week.
This week, Beacon Hill Roll Call examines the salaries and other benefits received by local state senators and representatives.
$60,032 BASE SALARY – The current base salary for legislators is $60,032. Their salary is up for adjustment in January every two years, either up or down, under a 1998 constitutional amendment approved by a better than two-to-one margin by voters. The amendment requires the governor to increase or decrease legislative salaries at the same rate as “increases or decreases in the median household income for the Commonwealth for the preceding two-year period, as ascertained by the governor.”
Legislators received a $306 pay cut for the 2011-2012 legislative session and an $1,100 pay cut for the 2013-2014 one. Their salaries were frozen at $60,032 for the 2015-2016 session. Prior to 2011, legislators’ salaries had been raised every two years since the $46,410 base pay was first raised under the constitutional amendment in 2001. The current $60,032 salary means legislative salaries have been raised $13,622, or 29 percent since the mandated salary adjustment became part of the state constitution.
EXTRA PAY FOR 101 LEGISLATORS – House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, both Democrats, receive a $35,000 stipend for their service — boosting their salaries to $95,032. House Minority Leader Bradley Jones and Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, both Republicans, receive a $22,500 stipend for their service — boosting their salaries to $82,532.
Over the past several years, the Legislature has increased the total number of legislators who receive annual stipends of $7,500 to $35,000 beyond their annual base salary. The latest figures show that 101, or more than half, of the state’s 200 legislators receive a stipend. Thirty-eight of the 40 senators and 63 of the 160 representatives receive bonus pay for their service in Democratic or Republican leadership positions, as committee chairs or vice chairs and as the ranking Republican on some committees.
Supporters say legislators in these important positions should be appropriately compensated for their many added responsibilities and hard work.
Critics say the base salary is sufficient and is eligible to be increased every two years.
PER DIEMS – Legislators are entitled to collect “per diems” to reimburse them for mileage, meals and lodging expenses for travel from their home to the Statehouse. These reimbursements are not taxable income and range from $10 per day for legislators who reside in the greater Boston area to $82 for Western Massachusetts lawmakers and $100 for those in Nantucket. The Legislature in 2000 doubled these per diems to the current levels. Legislators as of September 30 have collected a total of $148,328 in the 2016 session.
$7,200 FOR GENERAL EXPENSES – Each legislator receives a $7,200 annual general expense allowance. The Legislature in 2000 doubled this allowance from $3,600 to $7,200. This separate, flat rate expense allowance is not based on a lawmaker’s geographic distance from the Statehouse. It is designed to pay for some of the costs of legislators’ district offices and other expenses including contributions to local civic groups and the printing and mailing of newsletters.
Legislators are issued a 1099 from the state and are required to report the $7,200 as income but are not required to submit an accounting of how they spend it.
PARKING SPACE – Lawmakers are entitled to a parking space inside the Statehouse garage or at the nearby McCormack State Office Building. The first $255 in monthly value of the space is a tax-free benefit under federal and state guidelines that apply to all public and private employees, not just state legislators. Any value of the space above this amount is treated as taxable income.
The value of the parking spaces in 2016 was determined by the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance to be $413 per month. Based on that figure, legislators would be taxed on the excess $158 monthly by the Internal Revenue Service and the state.
HEALTH INSURANCE – Legislators are eligible to choose from 11 health insurance plans offered by the state’s Group Insurance Commission, which manages the plans for over 436,000 individuals — current and retired state and some municipal workers and their dependents.
Total monthly full-cost premiums for family plans range from $1,166 to $2,338 with the employee share of the premium ranging from $235 to $661. Individual plans are available from $486 to $999 with the employee share of the premium ranging from $98 to $284.
Lawmakers elected on or before July 1, 2003, pay 20 percent of the premium and the state pays 80 percent. Those elected to their first term on or after July 1, 2003, pay 25 percent while the state picks up only 75 percent. State and federal privacy regulations protect this information and it is not possible to obtain records about which plans individual legislators have purchased.
LIFE INSURANCE – Legislators who purchase a health insurance policy from the state are also required to buy the state’s basic $5,000 life insurance policy. This costs employees $1.30 to $1.63 per month, depending on the date of hire. The same 20/80 25/75 formula used for health insurance also applies to this life insurance.
Legislators also have the option to buy additional life insurance with a value of up to eight times their salary. The entire premium for the optional insurance is paid by legislators.
LONG-TERM DISABILITY AND HEALTH CARE SPENDING ACCOUNT – Legislators also have the option to open a Health Care Spending Account (HCSA) and Dependent Care Assistance Program (DCAP), and to buy long-term disability insurance.
The HCSA allows legislators to set aside their own funds to pay for out-of-pocket health care expenses with before-tax dollars while the DCAP allows them to set aside funds to pay for certain dependent care expenses with before-tax dollars. This participation reduces their federal and state income taxes. The entire premium for long-term disability is paid by legislators.
DENTAL AND VISION INSURANCE – Legislators are eligible to choose one of two dental/vision insurance plans. Current monthly employee premium costs for family plans range from $15 to $20, while individual plans range from $5 to $6. All lawmakers pay 15 percent of the premium and the state pays 85 percent.
SOME LEGISLATORS PAY LITTLE OR NO FEDERAL TAX ON THEIR LEGISLATIVE SALARY – Legislators who live more than 50 miles from the Statehouse are eligible for a special federal tax break. A 1981 federal law allows them to write off a daily expense allowance when filing their federal income tax return. The complicated system determines a daily amount, ostensibly for meals, lodging and other expenses incurred in the course of their jobs, which can be deducted for every “legislative day.”
Under the Massachusetts Legislature’s system and schedule, every day of the year qualifies as a legislative day. The Legislature does not formally “prorogue” (end an annual session) until the next annual session begins. This allows legislators to take the deduction for all 365 days regardless of whether the Legislature is actually meeting or not. Legislators do not even have to travel to the Statehouse to qualify for the daily deduction.
The amount of the deduction is based on the federal per diem for Massachusetts. It varies from year to year. The daily per diem for legislators for 2016 varies in different parts of the state and is seasonal. It ranges from $162 per day to $366 per day or between $59,130 and $133,590 annually. It is estimated that more than one-third of the state’s 200 legislators qualify for this deduction and are eligible to pay little or no federal income tax on their legislative salaries.
REPRESENTATIVES’ AND SENATORS’ SALARIES FOR 2016
Here’s the current annual salary of your representative and senator. The dollar figure includes only the base salary of $60,032 and any annual bonus stipends of $7,500 to $35,000 for some members who serve in Democratic or Republican leadership positions, as committee chairs or vice chairs and as the ranking Republican on some committees. It does not include any of the other benefits described above.
Rep. Christine Barber $60,032 Rep. Denise Provost $60,032 Rep. Timothy Toomey $67,532 Sen. Patricia Jehlen $75,032
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
LAW PROHIBITING DISCRIMINATION AGAINST TRANSGENDER PEOPLE TAKES EFFECT – The new law that prohibits discrimination against transgender people in public accommodations by adding “gender identity” to existing Massachusetts civil rights laws took effect last week. Massachusetts law already prohibits discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of age, race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, sex, religion and marital status.
Public accommodations are defined as “a place, whether licensed or unlicensed, which is open to and accepts or solicits the patronage of the general public.” This includes hotels, restaurants, retail stores, malls, theaters, parks, medical offices, libraries and public transportation. The major controversy has centered around the fact that the proposal would also allow access to legally gender-segregated public facilities, including restrooms and locker rooms, based on a person’s gender identity rather than on their sex.”
ALLOW BANKS TO CONDUCT RAFFLES (S 2374) – The House and Senate approved and sent to Gov. Charlie Baker a bill that would allow banks to conduct a “savings promotion raffle” and offer prizes to winners. The contests, designed to encourage more people to save money, would be open only to customers who deposit a specific amount of money, to be determined by the bank, in a savings account.
Supporters said some states have already done this and have seen a marked increase in the number of people who open savings accounts at the bank. They argued it is a great promotion that will result in more people depositing money into a savings account.
Opponents said that banks should not be involved in raffles and gambling.
TELL VICTIMS RAPE KITS ARE KEPT FOR 15 YEARS (H 4364) – The House and Senate have agreed on a new version of a bill that would require all rape kits to be kept for a minimum of 15 years. The measure also requires that rape victims be notified immediately that the kit will be kept for that length of time.
Current law allows the kits to be kept for 15 years but initially only requires they be kept for six months unless the victim files a request for an extension. The measure needs only final House and Senate approval before it goes to the governor.
RECORKING WINE (H 199) – The House and Senate in September gave final approval to and sent to Gov. Charlie Baker a bill that would expand the current law allowing restaurant and hotel customers to bring home an unfinished bottle of wine. The proposal would expand the law to taverns, clubs and veterans’ organizations like American Legion posts. The wine would have to be resealed and then placed in a one-time-use tamper-proof, transparent bag.
Supporters said it is time to expand this law to ensure that people do not finish their bottle of wine just so it doesn’t go to waste. They noted that often leads to drunken driving.
The governor sent the bill back with an amendment making a technical change and the House has approved the change. The Senate will likely approve it also and then the proposal will go back to the governor for his signature.
WELDING SAFETY (H 4455) – The Senate approved a House-approved bill creating a special commission to study welding regulations in Massachusetts and report back to the Legislature by June 1, 2017. The legislation was prompted by the March 2014 deaths of Back Bay firefighters Edward Walsh and Michael Kennedy, who perished while fighting a fire that was caused by welders, working without a city permit, on a building next door to the brownstone in which they perished. The commission would study current regulations and recommend whether new ones are warranted.
The measure needs additional approval in each branch before it goes to the governor. A similar bill was proposed in 2014. It was approved by the Senate and given initial approval by the House where it was left lingering.
DESTROY OLD RECORDS – As the state’s Department of Transportation (Mass DOT) prepares to convert to all-electronic tolling at the end of October, it has requested authority from the state’s Records Conservation Board to destroy tolling records that go back to 1998 when Fastlane transponders were first used. The records have been warehoused and cannot be destroyed unless the board gives permission. State officials argue that the data is useless and is simply wasting space.
DAVID ORTIZ DRIVE – Mayor Marty Walsh announced that that Boston will request approval from its Public Improvement Commission to name a street after retiring Red Sox slugger David Ortiz. The street, currently named Yawkey Way Extension, connects Maitland Street and Brookline Avenue and is an important connection between Fenway Park and the MBTA’s Yawkey Station. A pedestrian plaza along the street is already lined with all the retired numbers of Red Sox players.
Two weeks ago, the Legislature approved and last week Gov. Baker signed into law a measure that includes renaming the Brookline Avenue Bridge, between Lansdowne Street and Newbury Street, and spanning the Massachusetts Turnpike, the “David Ortiz ‘Big Papi’ Bridge.”
“The sky isn’t going to fall, life will go on, business will be business as usual, and opponents and haters will continue to come at this.”
Attorney General Maura Healey on the new law, effective last week, that prohibits discrimination against transgender people by adding “gender identity” to existing Massachusetts civil rights laws.
“Parents have been particularly alarmed to learn about this law … which would allow men to use the women’s bathroom, locker room, shower or changing facility if they identify as female. There have already been incidents reported here in Massachusetts where women’s privacy and safety in public accommodations were violated.
Andrew Beckwith of Keep MA Safe, the group that says it has gathered signatures to repeal the transgender law by putting it on the 2018 ballot for voters to decide.
“The negative impacts of too many deer within the Blue Hills State Reservation remains of the utmost concern to the Department of Conservation and Recreation. It is important that we enable the forest and plant species to not only regenerate, but to thrive. In doing so the forest will be able to continue to support all kinds of wildlife, and will remain an excellent place where people far and wide will be able to enjoy and observe nature within the heart of an urban setting.”
Department of Conservation and Recreation Commissioner Leo Roy announcing a state-sanctioned deer hunt on November 29-30 and December 6-7 at the Blue Hills Reservation.
“We are disappointed that the DCR is moving forward with this hunt, especially given the numerous concerns by residents and others about safety, as well as questions about the flaws in the deer population data upon which this decision is being based. Running last year’s hunt cost the state and municipalities at least $2,300 per deer, likely more. Hunting in the Blue Hills Reservation will not provide a long-term reduction in the deer population.”
Kara Holmquist, Director of Advocacy for Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
HOW LONG WAS LAST WEEK’S SESSION? Beacon Hill Roll Call tracks the length of time that the House and Senate were in session each week. Many legislators say that legislative sessions are only one aspect of the Legislature’s job and that a lot of important work is done outside of the House and Senate chambers. They note that their jobs also involve committee work, research, constituent work and other matters that are important to their districts. Critics say that the Legislature does not meet regularly or long enough to debate and vote in public view on the thousands of pieces of legislation that have been filed. They note that the infrequency and brief length of sessions are misguided and lead to irresponsible late night sessions and a mad rush to act on dozens of bills in the days immediately preceding the end of an annual session.
During the week of October 3-7, the House and Senate each met for a total of 42 minutes.
Mon. October 3 House 11:01 a.m. to 11:19 a.m.
Senate 11:05 a.m. to 11:28 a.m.
Tues. October 4 No House session
No Senate session
Wed. October 5 No House session
No Senate session
Thurs. October 6 House 11:00 a.m. to 11:24 a.m.
Senate 11:06 a.m. to 11:25 a.m.
Fri. October 7 No House session
No Senate session
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org