People Hate the Massachusetts Legislature’s Pay Raises, Poll Finds

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By Andy Metzger

BOSTON — Lawmakers’ decision to award themselves pay raises earlier this year was an unpopular move with around three quarters of the electorate, according to a poll sponsored by a conservative group that argues the pay hike could imperil progressives’ push for a tax hike next year.

The pay raise law, approved over Governor Charlie Baker’s veto, increased the compensation of the Speaker and the Senate president from about $97,000 to $142,000 while other lawmakers’ pay increased by lesser but still substantial amounts depending on their leadership positions or committee chairmanships.

Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, a group that has rankled Democrats since its founding five years ago, calculated that the average pay raise was 40 percent. Except for top leadership positions, lawmakers holding only one stipend-eligible position saw their pay rise by less than 40 percent, and backbenchers received only an increase in their expense accounts.

Thirty percent of voters said they would be “much less likely” to support someone at the polls who voted for his or her own 40 percent pay raise, and another 43.6 percent said they would be “less likely,” according to the survey conducted by Advantage Inc., of Virginia.

The poll that was publicized Wednesday found 8.8 percent of voters would be more likely to support a politician who voted for their own 40 percent raise. The increase in lawmakers’ expense accounts, another provision of the pay raise law, was even less popular, according to the poll.

Jim Eltringham, vice president at Advantage Inc., said the poll of 500 registered voters conducted in mid-June was modeled to resemble the electorate in 2018. The margin of error was 4.4 percent.

According to the survey, two thirds of voters were very or somewhat aware of the pay raise vote, which was lawmakers’ first major agenda item this year.

No Republicans supported the pay raise bill and nine House Democrats and three Senate Democrats opposed the measure, which passed overwhelmingly in both branches.

Paul Craney, spokesman for Mass. Fiscal, said the poll also showed that Democrats who voted for the pay raise bill created some challenges for the Democrat-led push to add a 4 percent surtax onto incomes over $1 million. Mass. Fiscal opposes that tax.

In back-to-back sessions about 70 percent of the House and Senate voted to advance the ballot question to amend the state constitution with a surtax that proponents say could generate $2 billion for transportation and education. Unless it is blocked by the courts, the question will appear on the 2018 ballot.

The poll told respondents that the “intent” of the surtax ballot question was to finance the pay raise, although the raise is not mentioned in the question.

Supporters of the tax have maintained that its intent is to raise money for education and transportation and the legislation would bar the tax proceeds from being used for anything else. Surtax opponents have argued that lawmakers would be able to circumvent that requirement in part because the infusion of funds for transportation and education would free up other funds to be spent in other areas of government.

Craney contended that while activists who gathered the signatures to place the proposed constitutional amendment before lawmakers did so to boost education and transportation funding, lawmakers supported it merely to increase state revenues.

“The lawmakers’ intent is taxpayer money goes to whatever they want,” Craney said. He said, “Lawmakers have a different intent than activists.”

Proponents refer to the surtax as the Fair Share Amendment, while Craney calls it Prop 80 because taxes on incomes above $1 million would go from around 5.1 percent to 9.1 percent, a roughly 80 percent increase. The constitution currently requires a flat income tax.

The poll asked, “Now that you’ve learned the intent of Prop 80, which increases the top tax bracket by 80% to fund the legislature’s 40% pay raise, are you more or less likely to support Prop 80?”

Nearly 68 percent of those surveyed responded that they would be less likely to support the surtax ballot question.

“If people could trust Beacon Hill with how they’re spending, there would probably be support for this ballot question but at the end of the day they just don’t,” Craney said.

Steve Crawford, spokesman for Raise Up Massachusetts, a coalition of groups seeking to enshrine the surtax in the constitution, dismissed the poll results.

“Massachusetts residents want a serious discussion of how we’re going to invest in our state’s future, and Raise Up Massachusetts welcomes that debate,” Crawford said. “This silly so-called poll insults the intelligence of Massachusetts voters.”

The poll also found that Baker remains extremely popular and U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren is also relatively well regarded by voters. Fifty eight percent of respondents had a favorable opinion of Warren and about 38 percent had an unfavorable opinion of her. Of those, 33 percent had a very unfavorable opinion of the Cambridge Democrat who is seeking re-election next year.

More than 72 percent of respondents had a favorable opinion of Baker, while 16 percent had an unfavorable opinion of the Republican governor.

This past November, President Donald Trump earned roughly 33 percent of the Massachusetts vote and after five months of his presidency 37.6 percent of Bay State voters had a favorable opinion of Trump, according to the poll. Fifty-nine percent of Bay Staters surveyed had an unfavorable opinion of the president. That roughly matches the Gallup Daily Tracking poll of the president’s job approval rating nationwide.