Drinks Are On Bobby
By Matt McDonald | January 25, 2017, 17:54 EST
If you were the governor of a state where the other party outnumbered your party in the Legislature 3 ½ to 1, you might look for ways to make the legislators happy.
And if you had it in your power to give those legislators a pay raise, you might do it.
You might say to yourself, “How am I ever going to get anything done unless these people are willing to work with me? And how I am going to get them to work with me unless I give them a raise?”
Governor Charlie Baker made such a decision in late December.
Cost the rest of us $500,000.
But what happens when you give in? They always want more.
The ill-gotten gains have hardly had time to jangle in their pockets and the Democrats on Beacon Hill are already looking for another score.
This time, Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg are apparently about to get a $45,000-a-year raise. Then there’s an increase of $37,500 to the majority and minority leaders, and an increase of $40,000 to the chairman of each house’s Ways and Means committee. State legislators would get $15,000 extra to take the place of the per diems (which amount to special pay for driving to work), plus more if they live far from Boston.
Increases for the governor, the lieutenant governor, the attorney general, the secretary of state. Increases for judges.
The governor says he may veto the bill. But the speaker thinks he may have enough votes to override the governor.
Let’s set aside the outrageous numbers. Let’s forget about the estimated $4.1 million total cost per year mention on the floor of the house, of which $1.4 million is for the legislators. (One report says the true figures are $6.5 million for the rest of the current fiscal year and $12 to $18 million next fiscal year.)
Something is fundamentally wrong with the political system in Massachusetts.
How did we get here?
By overvaluing government.
Hacks on Beacon Hill will tell you that they work hard and they deserve the money.
I’m not sure about that. But let’s say it’s true. Therein lies the problem.
They work too hard.
They need some time off.
If they were part-time legislators, they might not pass as many laws. They might not find as many nooks and crannies to poke their noses in. Maybe we’d have fewer statutes, fewer regulations, and more freedom.
We’d sure as heck have more money.
How could we survive with part-time legislators?
Well, let’s consider an example. And not that far away.
Among the English-speaking democratic governments, New Hampshire has the fourth largest legislature in the world. (It goes British Parliament, United States Congress, Canadian Parliament, New Hampshire Legislature.)
The House of Representatives in New Hampshire has 400 members. That’s almost three times the size of the House of Representatives in Massachusetts for a state with one-sixth the population. So government in New Hampshire is very representative.
How can New Hampshire afford so many legislators?
The state pays them $100 a year.
A hundred bucks a year? Are you serious?
Oddly enough, getting candidates isn’t a problem. Neither is getting contested elections.
That’s because there are enough people in the Granite State interested in contributing to their government that they’re willing to do it in their spare time, without making a career of it.
Whether it’s for ego, power, prestige, community service, or all of the above, people in New Hampshire run for the state Legislature knowing that they aren’t going to make money doing it.
Now, New Hampshire isn’t perfect. It has its problems. And its legislature is often, well, mediocre.
But so is the one in Massachusetts. And so is almost every legislature everywhere. The last impressive body of legislators was the Second Continental Congress.
In New Hampshire, though, it’s mediocrity on the cheap.
Even more important, though, is that New Hampshire legislators tend to abide by the Hippocratic Oath — “First do no harm …”
We could use some of that around here.