Controversy Surrounding $18 Million In Pay Hikes

By Bob Katzen

   House approved 116-44, Senate approved 31-9 and Gov. Charlie Baker vetoed an $18 million pay raise package including hiking the salaries of the two leaders who filed the bill, House Speaker Robert DeLeo (D-Winthrop) and Senate President Stan Rosenberg (D-Amherst), by $45,000 from $97,547 to $142,547. The measure also hikes the pay of the Legislature’s two Republican leaders, Sen. Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester) and Rep. Bradley Jones (R-North Reading) by $37,500 from $85,047 to $122,547. Another provision hikes the salaries of the state’s judges by $25,000 and of court clerks over an 18-month period. 
   “Given the current fiscal outlook for the state, now is not the time to expend additional funds on elected officials’ salaries,” Baker said. “This bill is the result of a hasty process that included little substantive debate or time for public comment.”
    Legislative leaders are confident they have the votes to override a veto as evidenced by the 116-44 and 31-9 vote which are more than two-thirds needed. Opponents would have to switch ten Democratic votes in the House and five in the Senate to sustain the governor’s veto.
   The measure raises the governor’s salary 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 $134,952 to $165,000; and the attorney general by $44,418 from $130,582 to $175,000. It also bans these six constitutional officers and the House speaker and Senate president from earning outside income, other than passive income from investments. 
   Supporters say that only $1.4 million is for the legislative pay raises while the remainder is for hikes for constitutional officers, judges and court clerks.
   The pay raise package made it through the Legislature at lightning speed. It was only Thursday, January 18, when the temporary Joint Committee on Ways and Means held a brief one-hour hearing on a two-year-old report of the Special Advisory Commission on the Compensation of Public Officials. DeLeo and Rosenberg have not yet appointed members of any committees so a temporary Ways and Means Committee was hastily appointed and assembled for the hearing. The hearing was convened with less than 72-hours-notice to the public. Then just a week later on January 25, a pay raise package is approved. 
    Rosenberg defended the bill. “We followed overall the recommendations of the independent commission that was appointed two years ago,” he said. “They came back and said that the constitutional officers’ salaries are out of line with national salaries and ought to be increased … Fair minded people will consider the fact that the stipends for the presiding officers have not changed for 33 years. Who works for the same amount 33 years later?”
   “The Beacon Hill power brokers robbed the taxpayers,” said Rep. Jim Lyons (R-Andover). “They voted to increase their salaries by over 50 percent. The Republican caucus voted unanimously against this thievery and abuse of power. We must end one party rule on Beacon Hill.”
  “This wasn’t myself just thinking during the Christmas holiday that this would be a good thing to do,” said DeLeo. “This is something which I’ve been hearing about for years. From Constitutional officers. I’ve been hearing from House members and Senate members and an awful lot of folks.”
   Chip Ford, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation, said, “These cynical actions demonstrate that when the leadership and enough beholden members in the Legislature want something badly enough ― they just take it. Disguising it as something at all legitimate required a whole two days.” Ford continued, “There was little if any trickery and manipulation that didn’t go into this shameless effort on behalf of legislative leadership and others with much to gain.”
   “Strange — no one’s talking about the effect these raises will have on bringing out more candidates against incumbents,” said Sen. Michael Barrett (D-Lexington) who supported the raises. “It’s going to happen. These are the first salary adjustments in recent memory big enough to draw the interest of potential competitors employed in the private sector today.”
   Paul Craney, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance said, “The move sends the worst type of message. Good work should be rewarded but there’s no good in this. Salaries and pensions will go up for these lawmakers and they’ll be quick to call for more tax hikes.”
   “These are serious jobs,” said Sen. Will Brownsberger (D-Belmont). “And you want people to compete for these jobs and you don’t want these guys under financial strain. You’re talking about the legislative leaders, you don’t want them under financial strain any more than you want a police officer walking the beat under financial strain.” 
   “I don’t think anyone that works in the Legislature as a representative or senator is struggling to put food on their table or get health care for their families,” responded Rep. Shauna O’Connell (R-Taunton). “And we have people in Massachusetts that are struggling. We have a budget deficit right now. And the first thing that we go in and do, the very first session we have, is to vote on a substantial pay raise.”
   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.”
   Under that formula, legislators’ salaries were increased by $2,515 for the 2017-2018 legislative session. The current base pay for legislators is now $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.
   Currently, 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. Currently, annual stipends for these positions range from $7,500 to $35,000 above their annual base salary. The bill would increase many of those stipends and the new range would be from $15,000 to $65,000. 
   The bill requires that every two years the salaries of the governor, the other five constitutional statewide officers and the House speaker and Senate president be increased or decreased based on data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) that measures the quarterly change in salaries and wages. It also requires that the same formula be used every two years to increase or decrease the stipends that 99 other legislators receive for their service in Democratic or Republican leadership positions, as committee chairs or vice chairs and as the ranking Republican on some committees. 
   The measure puts 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. In 2016, 103 or more than one-half of the state’s 200 legislators were paid per diems totaling $278,601.
   Another provision increases the annual general expense allowance for each legislator from $7,200 to $15,000 for members whose districts are within a 50-mile radius of the Statehouse and to $20,000 for districts located outside of that radius. The most recent increase in the general expense allowance was a hike from $3,600 to $7,200 in 2000. 
   This allowance is used at the discretion of individual legislators to support a variety of costs including the renting 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 allowance as income but are not required to submit an accounting of how they spend it.
   Under current federal law, which the bill does not affect, these same 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 these legislators to take the deduction for all 365 days regardless of whether the Legislature is 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. 
   Other provisions of the pay hike package give a $65,000 housing allowance for the governor. Massachusetts is one of only six states that supplies neither a governor’s residence nor a housing allowance, even as Boston has the among the most expensive housing market of any of the state capitals.
   The package also has an emergency preamble attached to it. That means it goes into effect immediately instead of in the usual 90 days. The preamble says, “Whereas, the deferred operation of this act would tend to defeat its purpose, which is to make certain changes in law for compensation of public officials, therefore, it is hereby declared to be an emergency law, necessary for the immediate preservation of the public convenience.” 
   Voters are not allowed to collect signatures to put a question repealing the pay raises on the November 2018 ballot because the package includes judicial pay hikes which under the Massachusetts Constitution cannot be the subject of a repeal on the ballot.
   “The judges were included because judges haven’t had a pay raise in a couple of years and we’re below the national average [in pay],” said Rosenberg. “We are having trouble recruiting people to apply for judgeships.”
    Ford responded, “With such careful thought and consideration given to the mechanics of this legislation, this certainly cannot be unintentional. It is to ensure that this pay grab is referendum-proof, preventing any kind of citizen input whatsoever, every step along the way, and beyond.”


   Here’s how local legislators voted on the pay raise.
   (A “Yes” vote is for the pay raise. A “No” vote is against it.)

 Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Denise Provost No Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes                                     


   House 120-40, rejected an amendment that would delay all the hikes in pay and increased allowances and make them effective in January 2019.
   Amendment supporters said that this would ensure that there is an election in between the approval of the pay hikes and their implementation. They argued that legislators knew what they would be earning when they ran for office in November 2016. They said that the state should not increase salaries while there is an estimated $500 million deficit lurking.
   Amendment opponents said the raises are fair and noted that the funds for the legislative hikes will come from the existing budget. They argued that legislators’ stipends have not been increased in 23 years and the expense allowance has not been hiked in 17 years.
   (A “Yes” vote is for the delaying the raises until 2019. A “No” vote is against the delay.)

 Rep. Christine Barber No Rep. Denise Provost No                                      

   House 36-124, rejected an amendment that would limit the increase in stipends for legislators to 4 percent above the current amount.
   Amendment supporters said that a low 4 percent increase would be more reasonable than the up to 100 percent hikes in the bill.
   Amendment opponents said that legislators’ stipends have not been increased since 1994 and the expense allowance has not been hiked since 2000. They argued the hikes are reasonable.
(A “Yes” vote is for limiting the hikes to 4 percent. A “No” vote is against the limit.)

 Rep. Christine Barber No Rep. Denise Provost No                                      

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