BACON HILL: Democrats Ram Pay Raise Bill Through House

Printed from: http://newbostonpost.com/2017/01/25/bacon-hill-democrats-ram-pay-raise-bill-through-house/

BOSTON House lawmakers on Wednesday acted quickly along party lines to ram through a complex $18 million package of legislative, judicial,and constitutional office pay raises, marking the end of a speedy process in which Republicans appeared to be powerless in their opposition.

Each Republican amendment went down in defeat, including efforts by state Representative Jim Lyons (R-Andover) to delay the implementation of pay raises until after the 2018 elections and to cap boosts in stipends for House leaders at 4 percent, matching the constitutionally-approved pay raises awarded to the rank-and-file.

“I have to comment on the speed in which this bill moved,” state Representative Marc Lombardo (R-Billerica) said while addressing the House chamber ahead of the final vote. “I will readily admit that I often say that things don’t move fast enough in this body, and that the government needs to move quicker.

“Wow did this bill move quick.”

The pay raise bill, a joint petition drafted by House Speaker Robert DeLeo (D-Winthrop) and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg (D-Amherst), was filed Monday. DeLeo and Rosenberg drafted the legislation prior to a January 19 hearing before the Joint Ways and Means Committee. 

The Joint Ways and Means Committee hearing centered on a 2014 report regarding compensation for elected public officials.

There was, however, no public hearing on DeLeo and Rosenberg’s bill. 

Shortly after the report was released in November 2014, Governor Charlie Baker went on the record and said pay raises “can wait.”

Baker was more cagey when asked by reporters as to whether or not he would veto the bill. While the bill’s 116-44 vote ensures a veto-proof majority, Baker could still take the symbolic step of vetoing the measure should it reach his desk.

“I don’t know what the proposal from the Legislature is going to look like, we have a standard practice around here of not assuming we know what’s going to ultimately come out of the process and get to our desk,” Baker told reporters. “But we said in 2014 we didn’t think that a pay raise made sense at that point in time and I don’t see a lot that’s changed with respect to that.

“But obviously we’ll wait and see what we get from the Legislature before we make a final decision.”

Asked about the projected $18 million maximum cost that the pay raises could inflict on the fiscal 2018 budget, Baker reiterated his earlier stance.

“To get back to my preamble when this question was asked earlier, we have a practice and a policy of not definitively responding to hypotheticals when it comes to legislation that is currently moving through the Legislature,” Baker said.

The pay raise bill means that DeLeo and Rosenberg would see their annual pay, including stipends, soar from $97,500 to $142,500. Baker’s haul would climb from $151,800 annually to $185,000, not counting a new $65,000 housing allowance, although Baker has said he will decline his raise if the legislation passes.

The measure also raises salaries for others serving in leadership positions, with majority and minority party leaders who had previously earned an extra $22,500 annually now earning $60,000, putting their total salaries at roughly $123,000. Meanwhile, the per diems lawmakers claim for travel and other costs would be rolled into a flat stipend dictated by distance from Beacon Hill. Those commuting 50 miles or more would take home an extra $20,000 while lawmakers living within the 50-mile boundary would earn an extra $15,000.

Legislators make an annual base salary of $62,500. The legislation also affects those holding constitutional offices, including Supreme Judicial Court justices, who would earn $25,000 raises.

If enacted, the pay package would cost $4.1 million for the remainder of the current fiscal year. Beginning in fiscal 2018, the package is projected to cost upwards of $17.8 million annually.

Only nine House Democrats broke from party ranks to vote against the measure, including Representatives Thomas Calter of Plymouth, Michael Connelly of Cambridge, Diana DiZoglio of Methuen, James Dwyer of Woburn, Colleen Garry of Dracut, Jonathan Hecht of Watertown, Paul Heroux of Attleboro, Denise Provost of Somerville and Jonathan Zlotnik of Gardner.

An effort by state Representative Shaunna O’Connell (R-Taunton) to hold additional public hearings on the bill failed in another party line vote. State Representative Geoff Diehl (R-Whitman) was one of several Republicans who backed O’Connell’s efforts.

“In the last eight years we approved Common Core with no hearings, failed to justify indexed gas tax, switched from RomneyCare to ObamaCare, losing $1 million with a failed website,” Diehl pointed out. “If anything we should adopt the New Hampshire pay of $100.”

Lombardo repeatedly harped on the speed at which the bill flew through committee.

“How many bills will move at this speed during this session?” Lombardo asked rhetorically at one point from the House floor. “I think we all know the answer will be very few, if any.”

Lyons appeared especially incensed by the proposal when delivering remarks regarding two of his proposed amendments, which ultimately failed largely along party lines as well. At one point Lyons blasted the 2014 report and challenged fellow lawmakers to find out where in the report such pay increases are warranted.

Lyons also pointed out that if enacted, the raises would make DeLeo and Rosenberg the top earning state House and Senate leaders in the nation.

“In order to do that, you have to look for something in the report that supports it,” Lyons said. “Makes sense to me so I looked at the chart to see how they arrived at it, and the national average of the top 11 House speakers is $86,000.”

Lyons noted that the report originally recommended DeLeo and Rosenberg’s pay to climb to $175,000.

“That is simply ludicrous, this report is not worth the paper it’s written on, yet I’ve heard everyone say that ‘it’s because of the commission’s report’ this is a joke,” Lyons added.

A report by CommonWealth Magazine states that that DeLeo and Rosenberg sought input from the state Ethics Commission regarding their proposal. The Ethics Commission, according to CommonWealth, responded to the request on the same day that the Joint Ways and Means Committee held its hearing, meaning that DeLeo and Rosenberg had already “already made up their minds to push through a pay boost for themselves and most lawmakers.”

CommonWealth cited Ethics Commission general counsel Deirdre Roney’s letter to DeLeo and Rosenberg in which she pointed out that the proposal does not violate the state constitution because the legislation would increase stipends and not base salaries.

“As you have explained it, the proposed legislation will leave in place the constitutional mechanism for changes to base compensation, and will only affect changes with respect to leadership or committee stipends, and expenses and per diems,” Roney wrote in her January 19 letter. “That being the case, I conclude informally that … the conflict of interest law does not prohibit action concerning the proposed legislation.”

Ethics Commission spokesman David Giannotti told New Boston Post on Wednesday that he cannot confirm nor deny the existence of Roney’s letter.

“The Ethics Commission has strict confidentiality restrictions that are imposed by statute,” Giannotti said. “As part of that we cannot confirm or deny whether the commission has reviewed any matters.”

The pay package bill is now teed up for Senate members, who are expected to take up the measure on Thursday.

Paul Craney, executive director of the spending watchdog outfit Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, stated in a press release that the vote “sends the worst type of message.”

“Good work should be rewarded but there’s no good in this,” Craney said. “Salaries and pensions will go up for these lawmakers and they’ll be quick to call for more tax hikes.”

“Usually these types of votes for personal enrichment are remembered in November and if forgotten will be reminded.”

Kirsten Hughes, chairman of the Republican State Committee, also chimed in to voice her disapproval, describing the pay raises as “stunningly out-of-touch with working people” and the process as “scheming.”

“The only thing more outrageous than that, is the fact that these politicians are coming off a five-month vacation and the first thing they do is ram through a pay raise for themselves on the taxpayers’ dime,” Hughes stated.

Read a copy of the bill:

An Act relative to the compensation of Massachusetts public officials by Evan on Scribd