Boston City Council locks in big pay hike days before election

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BOSTON — Boston’s city councilors voted to give themselves a $12,000 pay raise just days before they face voters for re-election — though most are running unopposed.

The salary measure, which passed 9-4 on Wednesday, will boost the annual pay for a councilor by 14 percent to $99,500 from $87,500 currently. Councilors Ayanna Pressley, Michelle Wu, Charles Yancey and Josh Zakim voted against the raise, according to WBUR radio’s website.

Mayor Marty Walsh, who submitted the proposal, has said he won’t accept a similar increase as called for in the measure. It raises the salary for mayor to $199,000. Walsh, a first-term Democrat, gets about $175,000 a year.

With the pay bump, Boston’s city councilors joined the ranks of the best-compensated municipal lawmakers in comparable cities, including Baltimore, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Seattle, the Associated Press reported.

Some Bostonians were incredulous Wednesday at the raise, which has been a flashpoint in city politics for more than a year.

“They make a lot of money already,” Jose Maldonado, who lives in the Mission Hill neighborhood and works two janitorial jobs, told AP. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

There was little discussion or fanfare during Wednesday’s quick vote, but in months past council leaders have justified pushing for the raise by noting that the it would be the first for the 13-member panel since 2006. Other city workers have received steady pay raises over that time, they’ve said.

Fred Goodman, a South End resident taking a coffee break in the Financial District, rejected that justification.

“Everybody needs more money. It comes down to: What did they do before, and what are they going to do more now with this raise? That’s really what it’s about,” he told AP.

The pay raise would have become law if the council had done nothing: Under Boston’s city charter, a mayoral proposal becomes law in 60 days unless the council acts to reject or change it. In this case, the deadline to take action was Nov. 3 – election day in the city.

“That Boston city council voted itself raise six days before election is all you need to know about how little anyone is paying attn to race,” Michael Jonas, the executive editor of Commonwealth Magazine, said on his Twitter feed. Voter turnout in the preliminary nonpartisan council election was just 7 percent.

Councilor Michael Flaherty said he requested the vote in the interest of transparency.

The debate over council pay erupted in September 2014, when Council President Bill Linehan proposed boosting salaries by 29 percent, or $25,000 to $112,500. His plan was widely panned, and the council ultimately voted for a $20,000 increase last year.

Walsh vetoed the measure and formed an advisory board to study the issue and present recommendations. After the release of the advisory study this year, Walsh proposed a $99,500 raise in September. Linehan filed his own plan to boost salaries to $105,000.

Using the U.S. Department of Labor’s inflation calculator, it shows that equaling the purchasing power of $87,500 in 2006 would take a little more than $103,000 this year. The figures are based on the effects of inflation as measured by the consumer price index.

The pay issue became the first major sticking point between Walsh, the newly elected mayor, and the council. It’s has featured prominently in this year’s city elections, even though most council members are getting a free pass with no opponents.

One of those who do have an opponent voted against the increase. Yancey, representing District Four, faces newcomer Andrea Campbell, who beat him in the preliminary election last month. The district stretches across areas of Dorchester, Mattapan, Hyde Park and Jamaica Plain.

But District Seven Councilor Tito Jackson also faces an opponent, Charles Clemons, a former police officer who has run unsuccessfully for mayor, yet Jackson voted for the incease. There are five candidates for at-large council seats, including the four incumbents and Annisa Essaibi George, a city high school teacher and small business owner who ran unsuccessfully for a council seat in 2013. Pressley and Wu are both at-large councilors.

Walsh has called his plan a fair compromise that lets city leaders move on to more pressing challenges facing New England’s largest city.