Pay Raise Bill Teed Up for Votes in Mass. House, Senate

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STATE HOUSE – House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg would see their salaries increase by $45,000 a year and the governor’s compensation package would grow by 65 percent under a comprehensive package of pay raises introduced by legislative leaders on Monday.

The raises put forward by DeLeo and Rosenberg would increase pay, in some manner, for all 200 legislators on Beacon Hill as well as for the state’s six statewide constitutional officers and judges. Members of leadership and committee chairs would be in line for substantial pay hikes, while all lawmakers would see their office expense budgets increase.

There’s been no groundswell in support of raises and the move to address the salaries of public officials comes as lawmakers have just begun a new two-year session and as they face decisions about whether to restore funds for public services gutted by Gov. Charlie Baker with midyear spending cuts.

Legislative leaders have yet to dole out committee and leadership assignments that could come with significant pay increases. Under a constitutional provision, the base pay of lawmakers is adjusted every two years based on changes in the state’s median income.

Last week, legislative leaders decided to suddenly hold a hearing on a two-year old report produced by a special commission that recommended pay increases for top officials as a means of attracting top talent to government service and eliminating a potential impulse toward corruption.

Gov. Charlie Baker, after his election in 2014 when the report was published, said at the time he would veto any pay raise bill, but has not issued a similar threat this time around and legislative leaders appear ready to try and push a package through.

The branches held their sessions open all day on Monday as the final details were negotiated behind the scenes and put in writing with the hopes of the House voting on the package Wednesday. Apparently confident of a favorable House vote, the Senate plans to take up the issue on Thursday, and set a deadline of noon on Wednesday for amendments to be filed. The total cost of the package, which was referred to the Joint Committee on Ways and Means, was not immediately available.

Details on the process and the specifics of the proposal in recent days have been closely guarded by lawmakers who realize the potential political fallout that can come from voting to increase their own pay.

“Fair minded people will consider the fact that stipends for presiding officers have not changed for 33 years. Who works for the same amount 33 years later? The Boston Globe cost 25 cents a day 33 years ago. It’s now $2 a day. Obviously costs go up and they ought to be reflected in people’s salaries as well,” Rosenberg said Monday when asked how taxpayers might respond.

DeLeo also said that pay raises have been something that “has been looked at for many, many years.”

“I am very pleased and happy to do what I do. It’s something I choose to do with consideration of whatever the pay scale may be, but the one thing that I can say is that being speaker of the House is pretty much a seven day a week job, 365 days and year,” DeLeo said.

WATCH: Beacon Hill Leaders on Raising Pay of Public Officials

The pay increases for DeLeo and Rosenberg, under the bill, would bring the salaries of the top Democrats in the House and Senate from $97,547 to $142,547 by increasing their stipend from $35,000 to $80,000 a year on top of the base salary for all lawmakers.

The bill also calls for the governor’s salary to be increased from $151,800 to $185,000 a year with an additional $65,000 housing allowance added to the total compensation package for the state’s chief executive.

“I would rather wait until we actually have a proposal to comment on rather than commenting on something that’s kind of abstract,” Baker said earlier in the day after meeting with DeLeo and Rosenberg for nearly two hours on Monday afternoon.

Though the governor said he would review any final bill once it reaches his desk, Baker did say that he and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito were “quite content to continue to work with the compensation we have.”

The legislation calls for the attorney general and the treasurer to each get paid $175,000 a year in salary, up from $130,582 and $133,227 respectively, while the lieutenant governor, auditor and secretary of state would receive $165,000 salaries. According to the comptroller, the lieutenant governor currently earns $122,058 a year, the auditor earns $140,607 and the secretary of state earns $136,402.

The proposal would prohibit the speaker, Senate president, governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, treasurer, secretary of state and auditor from earning outside income while in office, except for money derived from assets.

By voting on leadership stipends before DeLeo and Rosenberg dole out the coveted positions for the new two-year session, lawmakers appear to be trying to avoid the ethical concerns with voting on a matter that financially benefits themselves.

Although state ethics laws bar lawmakers from voting on “special legislation” in which they, family members or business associates have a financial interest, they are free to participate in general legislation “even if they have a financial interest,” according to the Ethics Commission.

In an informal opinion provided to the House and Senate late last week, the Ethics Commission’s attorney concluded that the pay raise bill would qualify as “general legislation” allowing lawmakers to vote, but also advised that they file disclosures.

In addition to raises for the top two lawmakers in the House and Senate, everyone from chairmen to the rank-and-file would see some increase in their compensation package on top of the $62,547 base salary, which is adjusted every two years based on changes in household median income.

Stipends for the chairs of the Ways and Means committees would grow from $25,000 to $65,000, while floor leaders would get $60,000, up from $22,500. The minimum stipend for a committee chairmanship would increase to $15,000, while some, such as the Revenue Committee chairmanship, would carry a stipend of $30,000.

Office budgets would also grow under the bill. Every lawmaker would receive an office budget for expenses of at least $15,000 a year, up from $7,200, while lawmakers living 50 miles or more from the State House would get $20,000. The bill would eliminate the current system of paying per diems for lawmakers’ travel expenses.

Judges would see their pay rise by $25,000 over the next 18 months with raises phased in between now and July 1, 2018 in four steps.

Despite the bill containing a little bit for everyone, not all legislators are expected to go along.

Rep. Geoff Diehl was among of group of conservative Republicans to come out in opposition to the pay raises and wrote a letter to DeLeo in which they called the raises “ridiculous” and “obscene.” The other lawmakers included Reps. Jim Lyons, Shaunna O’Connell and Marc Lombardo.

“The average Massachusetts family has not enjoyed any tax cuts and now there is a proposal out there to fatten the pockets of those who refuse to provide that relief,” Diehl said in a statement.

Lyons noted how Baker acted to trim $98 million in spending from the current budget in December out of concern for slowing revenue growth.

“In his recent inaugural address, President Trump noted that ‘For too long, a small group in our nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government,” said Lyons. “Given the current budget climate in our state, it is certainly a message that bears consideration. Proposing a pay raise while money is being cut from essential programs is entirely inappropriate and sends the wrong message to the hard working families and taxpayers who will be asked to pay for it.”

Sen. William Brownsberger, a Belmont Democrat who was co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee last session and remains involved on criminal justice matters, wrote on his website that the beginning of the legislative session is a “reasonable time” to act on a report recommending pay hikes for elected leaders.

“It makes sense to consider compensation in the beginning of a session when most of the legislative leadership roles have not been assigned – fewer legislators will have to vote on particular stipends associated with their own positions,” ‘Brownsberger wrote. 

Brownsberger wrote online that he favors increases for public policy reasons. 

“As a taxpayer, I favor the increases for two basic reasons.  First, these important positions should be attractive enough that there is vibrant competition to fill them,” Brownsberger wrote. He continued, “Second, I don’t want legislative leaders to feel distracting financial pressures.

The bill schedules biennial pay adjustments, to reflect changes in Bay State salaries, for the stipends awarded to chairs, vice chairs and members of leadership, including the House speaker and the Senate president. The pay adjustments would also apply to all of the statewide elected officers, the proposed housing allowance for the governor and money for lawmakers’ “expenses.”

The senator’s post about pay raises attracted more than 220 comments since Saturday.

Paul Craney, executive director of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, said lawmakers should “think very hard” before deciding to increase their pay. “For most voters, there isn’t a single instance in which they can think of for why lawmakers deserve a pay raise. Usually these types of votes for personal enrichment are remembered in November and if forgotten will be reminded,” Craney said.

— Written by Matt Murphy

Andy Metzger contributed to this report