Here’s This Week’s Somervillen Voice Topic of The Week Choice and You Decide!: Should Lawmakers Get Pay Raises

Pay Raises for Statewide Officeholders, Senate President,House Speaker & Changes to Legislators’ Salaries & Beniefits 
By Bob Katzen


The Joint Committee on Ways and Means held a brief one-hour hearing on the two-year-old report of the Special Advisory Commission on the Compensation of Public Officials, created by the Legislature in June 2014. The hearing was convened with less than 72-hours-notice to the public.

   The commission recommended pay raises for the state’s six constitutional statewide officers, the speaker of the House and the Senate president.

   Other hikes suggested by the panel include increasing each legislator’s annual general expense allowance from $7,200 to either $10,000 or $15,000 depending on the member’s distance from the Statehouse; eliminating legislative per diem payments for meals and lodging reimbursements; changing the source and data on which current biennial legislative salary increases and decreases are based; and providing a $65,000 annual housing allowance for the governor.

   The commission issued its report back in December 2014 but the Legislature never held a hearing on it. Ira Jackson, Dean of the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston, chaired the group.

   “Our commission has been non-partisan, fact-driven and guided by principles and a philosophy about public compensation,” Jackson said in the report. “We have worked hard [and] conducted our business transparently. While issues around public compensation are inherently controversial and often contentious, we believe that these recommendations are fair and balanced and we are proud of what we have accomplished in less than 90 days.”

   Jackson echoed those remarks at last week’s hearing. Other members of the commission also spoke in favor of the pay hikes and other changes.

   Only Chip Faulkner, Director of Communications for Citizens for Limited Taxation (CLT), testified against the hikes. Faulkner spoke with Beacon Hill Roll following the hearing. 

  “Only in the Massachusetts State House could the Joint Committee on Ways and Means suddenly out of nowhere call for a public hearing with less than 72 hours’ notice on the day before the Presidential Inauguration ― and for what?” asked Faulkner. “For huge raises being proposed for the legislative leadership and constitutional officers. The salary proposals heard today were completely indifferent to what the voters had approved in 1998 and showed complete disdain for the state constitution. I asked ‘What part of the constitution don’t you understand?’ Complete silence followed that question.”


   Faulkner continued, “The state is facing a deficit anticipated to be in the $500 million to $600 million range this coming fiscal year starting July 1st. With deficits looming and possible cuts in the budget, huge salary increases now being contemplated for a select few is ludicrous. None of the committee members had any follow-up questions of me following my testimony. This hearing belonged in the Bizarro World. Our tax dollars at work.”

   The Special Commission concluded that the compensation of the Commonwealth’s constitutional officers and legislative leadership is generally outdated and inadequate. “Massachusetts state government is … a large and complex organization that provides vital services that affect every citizen, and as such it needs to attract talented, publicly spirited and honest individuals from diverse socio-economic and geographic backgrounds to fulfill its mission of serving every citizen,” said the commission report.

   The report continued, “Compensation for public officials should be adequate to attract and retain qualified individuals to a public career and ensure that there is not a temptation to betray the public trust.”

  The panel recommends that the governor’s salary be increased by $33,200, from $151,800 to $185,000; the lieutenant governor by $30,068, from $134,932 to $165,000; secretary of state by 34,738 from $130,262 to $165,000; treasurer by 47,083 from $127,917 to $175,000; auditor by 30,048 from $137,425 to $165,000; attorney general by $44,418 from $130,582 to $175,000; and the speaker and senate president by $79,967 from $95,033 to $175,000.

   It also recommends that the six constitutional officers and the House speaker and Senate president be prohibited from earning outside income, other than passive income from investments. The panel notes this would preclude the potential for conflicts of interest, and recognize the full-time nature of their duties and the increased compensation recommended.

   The commission also calls for an end to legislative per diems which are travel, meals and lodging reimbursements collected by the legislators. These reimbursements are given to legislators above and beyond their regular salaries.

   The amount of the per diem varies and is based on the city or town in which a legislator resides and its distance from the Statehouse.

   The commission report said that the per diem calculation conforms neither to state nor federal practice and does not require verification in order to receive reimbursement. It noted, “While doing away with the per diem would impose a disproportionate cost on legislators living further away from Boston, the commission believes that the current per diem policy is out-of-date.”

   While the commission recommends that the per diem should be eliminated, it also suggests that the annual general expense allowance for each legislator should increase from $7,200 to $10,000 for members whose districts are within a 50-mile radius of the Statehouse and to $15,000 for districts located outside of that radius. The most recent increase in office expense was a hike from $3,600 to $7,200 in 2000. The office expense is used to support a variety of costs including rent of a district office, 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.

   The commission also calls for an annual $65,000 housing allowance for the governor, noting that Massachusetts is one of only six states that supplies neither a governor’s residence nor a housing allowance, even as Boston has the most expensive housing market of any of the state capitals. The commission said, “The burden on a governor from Western Massachusetts or someone with modest means is obvious and may be a deterrent to seeking office.”

   Finally, the commission recommends changing the source and data on which current biennial legislative salary increases and decreases are based. In 1998, voters approved by a two-to-one margin a constitutional amendment requiring governors to calculate and announce an increase or decrease in legislative salaries every two years. The specific language requires legislative salaries to be “increased or decreased 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.”

   The commission concludes that the methods used to make that adjustment vary from governor to governor because each one can decide what formula to use to calculate the median household income. The commission suggests that the formula should be set by state law to provide consistency and transparency and that the same biennial adjustment should apply to the salaries of the governor, the other five constitutional officers, the Senate president and House speaker. The panel said it has researched several options and data sources for calculating the change and recommends using data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) that measures the quarterly change in salaries and wages.

   Legislators’ salaries were increased by $2,515 for the 2017-2018 legislative session. The current base pay for legislators is $62,547. That hike came on the heels of a salary freeze for the 2015-2016 legislative session, a $1,100 pay cut for the 2013-2014 session and a $306 pay cut for the 2011-2012 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 new $62,547 salary means legislative salaries have been raised $16,137, or 34.8 percent, since the mandated salary adjustment became part of the state constitution.

   The commission also used the 2013-2014 salary adjustment as an example to point out the differences between the two formulas. Under the current formula, legislators’ salaries were cut by 1.8 percent for the 2013-2014 session reducing the base salary of each senator and representative by $1,100 – from $61,132 to $60,032.

   If the commission’s new system of using the BEA was in effect in for the 2013-2014 legislative session, legislative salaries would have increased by 6.1 percent and raised salaries $5,278 – from $61,132 to $66,410.

   The complete report can be found on the commission’s website:
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