BACON HILL, PART DEUX: Baker Will Veto Dems’ Veto-Proof Pay Raise Package

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BOSTON In the end, Senate Republicans appeared powerless when it came to halting the legislative money train that rocketed through both chambers on Beacon Hill this week.

“We in the minority appreciate the work that has been done,” state Senator Bruce Tarr, the GOP minority leader from Gloucester, told Senate President Stanley Rosenberg (D-Amherst) moments before the vote. “However, given the economic circumstances we have faced and we will continue to face, those of us in the minority cannot support the legislation at this time and we feel it is inappropriate.”

Then, a 31-9 vote shot a bill stuffed with a wide-ranging series of pay raises earmarked for legislative, judicial, and constitutional offices back to the House en route to Governor Charlie Baker’s desk.

Just three Senate Democrats joined the body’s six GOP members in voting against the $18 million package: Anne Gobi of Spencer, Michael O. Moore of Millbury and Walter F. Timilty of Milton.

On Thursday evening, hours after both chambers wrapped up their final votes to enact the proposal, Baker surveyed the fiscal landscape and said in a prepared statement that he plans to issue a veto.

“Lieutenant Governor [Karen] Polito and I are deeply thankful for our collaborative relationship with the Legislature that has produced results for the people of Massachusetts and while we disagree on the issue of compensation, we are optimistic that we will continue to work together to carry out the responsibilities entrusted to us by the people of Massachusetts,” Baker said. “One of those core responsibilities is the responsible custody of the people’s tax dollars, and we will veto this legislation because given the current fiscal outlook for the state, now is not the time to expend additional funds on elected officials’ salaries.”

House and Senate Democrats, however, have managed to secure a veto-proof majority. After Baker issues his veto, the bill will face an override vote. It remains to be seen how hard Baker will press the bill’s backers, who are being steered by DeLeo and Rosenberg, to change their votes.

The pay package will result in substantial pay raises for DeLeo and Rosenberg. Both will rake in an additional $45,000, placing their salaries just north of $142,000. Out of the $18 million annually set to go towards raises, $2.8 million will go to the Legislature, where salaries for staffers and office expenses will see a boost. Committee chairmen will earn double their current stipends, going from $15,000 to $30,000.

In the Senate, each of the 40 members holds a leadership post, meaning that all will see significant bonus in pay.

The pay raises are coming the form of increases to the legislators’ so-called “stipends” because an amendment to the state constitution prohibits lawmakers from voting on whether to raise their base salary, which is currently $62,500.

The chairmen for the Joint Ways and Means Committee will land $25,000 raises. Some $14 million will go to pay for raises earmarked for the state’s roster of judges, who will see $25,000 increases. The bonanza also extends to the state’s six constitutional officers, including Attorney General Maura Healey, who will now make $175,000 “and an additional amount to be adjusted biennially to reflect the aggregate in salaries and wages in Massachusetts for the most recent 8 quarters as determined by the Bureau of Economic Analysis,” the bill states.  

The raises earmarked for the judiciary are especially significant, as the mere inclusion of judges and justices invokes a state statute barring citizens from initiating the ballot initiative repeal process, because the state constitution prevents judicial compensation from being decided by ballot question.

Senate Ways and Means Chairman Karen Spilka (D-Ashland) defended and outlined the package when she introduced it into the Senate chamber. Spilka noted that a “nonpartisan commission” had prepared a report regarding pay raises in 2014. She pointed out that stipends for legislative leaders and chairmen have not been adjusted since 1982. Factoring in inflation and cost-of-living increases, Spilka pointed out that the report recommended that the House speaker and Senate president would earn $175,000.

“If a person has to be a millionaire to run for office, that would not exist anymore,” Spilka said, noting that the cost of increases will be “absorbed” within the current budget, meaning lawmakers will not have to pass a supplemental budget. “This is very notable the bill prohibits constitutional officers, the speaker, and the Senate president from receiving outside compensation from any other source than passive investment income.”

An amendment filed by state Senator Donald Humason (R-Westfield) would have delayed the raises for two years. But like a similar measure filed in the House on Wednesday by state Representative Jim Lyons (R-Andover), it went down to defeat. Humason had pointed that the delay would mean raises would not kick in until after the 2018 elections.

“Our town boards of selectmen and city councils back home, when trying to change terms or compensation for mayors or city councils or select boards, they wait to implement it until the next term so it does not impact their body, but the next group to come,” Humason said.

After the vote, Humason told reporters the bill landed “at the wrong time” courtesy of the “wrong process.”

The bill never went through a public hearing.

“Honestly, it puts everybody in a bad light,” he added. “We want the Legislature to be respected by the people that we represent and I think this sends the wrong message.”

Humason said he’ll wait until Baker officially issues his veto before he decides whether or not to forego his pay raise. Gobi told State House News Service she plans to decline her pay raise.

Rosenberg defended the pay package during his exchange with reporters and echoed Spilka’s concerns regarding pay issues being a deterrent for those weighing a run for office. 

“We are losing young people every election cycle, members are staying about 10 years, and particularly the younger members who are trying to start families, they cannot live on this,” Rosenberg said.

Democrats dominate not only both houses of the state Legislature but also the general election ballots. Republicans challenged only 11 out of 34 state Senate races in November, all of which saw Democrat wins, while approximately 109 House Democrats ran without a Republican opponent.

Rosenberg also noted that the vast majority of pay raises are going to the judiciary.

“We are having trouble recruiting people to apply for judgeships,” Rosenberg claimed, citing conversations he’s had with both the Governor’s Council and several judges in his region.

When reminded that more than 400 had applied during a recent solicitation for applications by the Judicial Nomination Commission, Rosenberg brushed the point aside.

“That’s a lot of people, but how many of them were actually recommended by the governor?” Rosenberg asked. “It’s not just how many, it’s the quality of the people who apply, and no offense to the 400, but there is a rigorous process to make sure we are getting very qualified people to sit on the bench.

“I’m going by what the judges in my region tell me which is that the most talented people in the law, out in my region, cannot afford to apply for these jobs.”

Associate judges make an average salary of about $160,000.

Rosenberg also bristled when reminded that the package will make the bill’s authors, himself and DeLeo, some of the highest-paid state lawmakers in the nation.

“By $9,000, that is correct,” Rosenberg said, referring to the distance between himself and the number-two position. “By 9,000, in a state that has the third-highest per-capita income and a very high cost of living, because of the nature of our state being one of the original colonies, the 13 colonies, and the way things are organized in this state, it’s pretty expensive.

“So I don’t think a $9,000 differential between number one and number two is an overwhelming difference.”

Chip Faulkner, executive director of the conservative Citizens for Limited Taxation, said in a prepared statement that “these cynical actions demonstrate that when the leadership and enough beholding members in the Legislature want something badly they take it.”

“Disguising it as something at all legitimate required a whole two days,” he added, referring to the bill’s speedy passage. “There was little if any trickery and manipulation that didn’t go into this shameless effort on behalf of legislative leadership and others with much to gain.”

Brian Wynne, executive director of the Republican State Committee, also appeared aghast by the speed of the bill’s passage.

“Not only are Democrats happy to pad their pockets while asking more of Massachusetts taxpayers, they are rushing the bill through at a frenzied pace,” he said in a press release. “It took the Legislature five months to pass Governor Baker’s opioid reform bill, but their ramming this pay hike through in a matter of days.

“It  just goes to show Beacon Hill Democrats are entirely focused on serving themselves, not the people of the commonwealth.”

Paul Craney, executive director of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, also tore into the pay package.

“Some lawmakers work part time, others full time, and for those that are part time, it’s now the best part time job in America,” Craney said in a statement.