BACON HILL DENOUEMENT: Democrats Successfully Defy Baker Pay Raise Veto

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BOSTON — In the end, not even the risk one Beacon Hill Democrat made when he took to the House floor to try and convince his colleagues to reconsider their votes on a controversial pay raise bill made a dent in what appeared to be a preordained outcome.

The House on Thursday voted 116 to 43 to override Governor Charlie Baker’s veto of the bill, which will net House Speaker Robert DeLeo (D-Winthrop) and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg (D-Amherst) big pay raises in addition to increasing the pay for a host of other public officials.

On Thursday night the Senate vote 31 to 9, cementing the deal, despite the governor’s objections. The lone Senate Democrats to break ranks were Anne Gobi of Spencer, Michael O. Moore of Millbury, and Walter F. Timilty of Milton. No members from either branch flipped on their vote from last week despite Baker’s veto.

Hours earlier, state Representative Jonathan Hecht of Watertown, the only Democrat who spoke from the floor against the bill, acknowledged his unpopular stance among his Democratic colleague in a reference to J.R.R. Tolkien.

“This is the point in my speech when my wife suggested it would make good dramatic effect if I slipped on Bilbo Baggins’ ring and disappeared in front of you,” Hecht said at one point during his remarks.

Hecht’s argument focused on his fear that raises would “make the House more unequal, more hierarchical, and less representative,” while also having “real consequences for how we make laws and how effective each of us can be when representing our communities.”

The override means DeLeo and Rosenberg will land $45,000 raises, hiking their salaries to a little more than $142,000. The package, which includes raises for constitutional office holders such as the attorney general and the state auditor and raises for state judges, will cost taxpayers $18 million annually. The state Legislature’s haul is $2.8 million. Stipends for committee chairmen will double from $15,000 to $30,000. Since all 40 Senate members hold leadership posts, each will net significant bonuses in pay.

Prior to their override vote, House Democrats caucused behind closed doors. DeLeo, upon exiting the caucus, fielded questions from reporters but was abruptly led by his communications team into an elevator before the media was finished:

Before he was pulled away, DeLeo reiterated to reporters several points he made last month regarding an outside commission’s report outlining the rationale for the pay raises. DeLeo also noted that the $18 million will not affect the budget.

DeLeo added that he didn’t think the override vote put House members in an “awkward position.”

Asked if he thinks he and others “deserve” the pay boost, DeLeo responded by pointing again to the commission’s report and noting that “raises are always a subject of disagreement.”

The two others who spoke on the House floor included Republicans James Lyons of Andover and Shawn Dooley of Norfolk.

Lyons took aim at comments made last week by Rosenberg. The Senate president told reporters at the time that the current pay rate is discouraging younger people from seeking office. Lawmakers currently receive a base pay of $62,500.

“Now, he said, ‘we are losing young people every election cycle’ — so the solution the president has come up with is to give himself a 40 percent raise,” Lyons, who will turn 64 next month, quipped. “Based on news reports, the president is 68 years old. Beacon Hill’s new definition of younger members, I guess.

“So I still have a ways to go before I’m even considered a younger member.”

The Senate did not take up the override until Thursday evening. During the afternoon, Democratic members were spotted caucusing with Rosenberg inside his office. Just three Democrats broke party lines when the Senate last week voted in support of the package, sending it to Baker, who vetoed the measure, calling it “fiscally irresponsible.”  

Dooley said the proposal sets a bad precedent.

“I like and admire our current speaker and do not feel he would abuse this power,” he said about DeLeo. “But what we are doing by passing this, we’re setting ourselves up for potential future abuse of power.  

“When the speaker at his whim, at his leisure for no reason, can take away a third of a legislator’s pay, or grant them an additional third of their pay, that is an extraordinary amount of power you are putting in the hands of one man or one woman.”

State Representative Marc Lombardo (R-Billerica) was absent from today’s override vote but had previously voted against and spoken out publicly against the proposal.

Paul Craney, executive director of the conservative-leaning Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, has been a critic of the pay package and pointed out that the bill includes an emergency preamble guaranteeing that the raises kick in as soon as the bill is cemented:

“It’s a shame that legislative leaders like Rosenberg and DeLeo don’t share the same enthusiasm for reforming the rules as they do for pay raises and personal enrichment,” Craney said in a prepared statement, referring to the fact that Beacon Hill lawmakers on Thursday also voted on a series of rules for governing the new session.

The House on Thursday also voted against imposing an 8-year term limit on the speaker’s position. DeLeo had actually pushed to place a term limit on the position in 2009. An amendment offered by state Representative Geoff Diehl (R-Whitman) to cap the speaker’s tenure at eight years fell along party lines, as did 16 additional amendments sponsored by Republicans.

Craney also insinuated that the timing of the pay hike, which has coincided with the rocky and attention-grabbing start of Republican Donald Trump’s presidency, also should be considered.

“The national political scene provides cover on Beacon Hill,” Craney said. “The public’s attention is focused elsewhere and these practiced politicians want you to think they have your back but instead they have a knife in your back.”

The Massachusetts Republican State Committee also pounced on the perceived silence coming from others who will benefit from the pay package, such as Attorney General Maura Healey, whom the Boston Herald reported was in line to see a big boost due to the fact that both herself and her partner, an appellate court judge, will receive raises increasing their household income by nearly $70,000.

“AG Healey’s silence on the Democrats’ pay hike bill is all the more troubling given that her household would benefit from double-dipping under the bill,” MassGOP Chairman Kirsten Hughes said in a prepared statement. “Healey owes taxpayers an answer: will she ever stand up and oppose the Legislature’s outrageous effort to pad Democrats’ taxpayer-funded salaries?”

Healey announced later Thursday that she does not plan to take her pay hike.

ROLL CALL: How did your senators and representatives vote? 

Massachusetts SENATE vote — H.58 (pay raise override) by Evan on Scribd

Massachusetts HOUSE vote — H.58 (pay raise override) by Evan on Scribd

WATCH: DeLeo answers questions from reporters: