More Pay Raises on Beacon Hill — And This Time Governor Charlie Baker Is On Board

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By Matt Murphy

Two years after legislators ignited an uproar by voting through a generous package of pay raises for themselves and other public officials, the salaries for top ranking elected officials and rank-and-file legislators on Beacon Hill are going up again.

Governor Charlie Baker certified a pay raise of 5.93 percent for the 200 members of the House and Senate for the 2019-2020 session, raising the base pay for legislators by $3,709 to $66,256.

Stipends for the many leadership positions and committee chairmanships to be handed out early next year by legislative leaders are also due to rise by over 8 percent, according to Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, and all six statewide elected officials appear to be eligible for sizable raises on the scale of 8.32 percent.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Karen Spilka, for instance, are in line for raises of $11,613, in total, which would bring their compensation to $152,912 a year, plus $16,248 for office and travel expenses. That includes the 5.93 percent bump in base pay, and an 8.32 percent increase in their leadership stipend, which now totals $86,656.

Meanwhile, Governor Charlie Baker will accept, for the first time, an increased salary of $185,000 and a $65,000 housing stipend, upping his total pay package from its current level of $151,800. Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito will also be accepting an increased salary of $165,000.

After rejecting the same increase in pay in 2017, Baker during his campaign for re-election said he would accept the higher rate.

“I opposed that then because I hated the process that the Legislature went through to deliver on it and I didn’t feel like the Commonwealth was in a position to deal with it. But it’s now the statutory requirement here in Massachusetts,” Baker said during his final debate against Democrat Jay Gonzalez.

Asked to clarify what that meant for him, Baker said, “That’s what it is – if the voters are kind enough to give me a second term, I’ll just take it because that’s what it is.”

The governor and lieutenant governor, however, will be declining a further 8.32 percent increase in base pay that state treasurer Goldberg says the governor is eligible for under the 2017 compensation law that the Legislature passed over his veto.

That increase would have raised his salary to more than $200,000 and his housing allowance to over $70,000.

The adjustments in legislative base pay are required biennially under the state Constitution, and are based on changes in the median household income statewide. It’s the second time in the past decade that the base pay for lawmakers has been adjusted upward after lawmakers got a 4.2 percent raise at the start of the 2017-2018 session.

The additional increases stem from a controversial 2017 law that raised the pay for Constitutional officers like the governor and stipends for legislative leaders like the speaker and committee chairmen.

That law also awarded office and travel expense budgets of between $15,000 and $20,000 for every legislator, based on how far they live from the State House, and called for all of that compensation to be adjusted every two years based on changes in wages and salaries over two years as reported by the Bureau of Economic Analysis in the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The problem is that the new law never spelled out who should determine the size of those adjustments.

The omission allowed confusion to reign for much of the day Thursday among officials and staff who had grown accustomed to seeing the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, treasurer, and auditor all receive the same bump in base pay as legislators.

Goldberg’s office eventually said that it had done the math, as prescribed under the 2017 law, and came up with an 8.23 percent adjustment factor. The treasurer’s office said she intended to apply that rate of increase to her $175,000 salary, as well as the leadership stipends and office expense budgets for lawmakers.

Goldberg’s office, however, said it lacked the authority to apply the salary increase to other constitutional offices, and would instead wait to hear from their human resources departments whether the elected officials intended to take the raise, for which Goldberg said they are eligible.

The treasurer and attorney general’s offices come with salaries of $175,000, according to state law, while the secretary of state and state auditor are paid $165,000 annually. Should any of them accept an adjustment, Attorney General Maura Healey is eligible for the same $14,560 raise as Goldberg, while Secretary of State William Galvin and Auditor Suzanne Bump could receive an extra $13,728.

Baker, for one, declined the 2019 adjusted bump in pay.

“Governor Baker and Lt. Governor Polito will not accept any additional adjustments to their compensation beyond what was originally provided by the 2017 statute,” spokesman Brendan Moss said in a statement.

Other offices could not immediately be reached for comment late Thursday when the size of the raises became clear.

Spilka’s office seemed to dispute that there was any ambiguity in the 2017 law at all.

“This law, passed two years ago, created a transparent and standardized method to adjust pay and stipends for constitutional officers and legislators. We expect these adjustments to be made, in accordance with the law, through normal payroll mechanisms beginning in the new year,” spokesman Scott Zoback said in an email message on behalf of the president’s office.

The 5.9 percent increase in the starting salary for legislators was based on changes in median household income in Massachusetts over two years, as calculated by the United States Census Bureau.

Baker said he used the most recently available data from the American Community Survey to determine that median household income in Massachusetts from 2015 to 2017 had grown from $73,052 to $77,385, or 5.93 percent.

While that process is spelled out in the Massachusetts Constitution, Speaker DeLeo and then-Senate President Stanley Rosenberg in 2017 pushed through a package of pay raises for lawmakers that adjusted the stipends they receive for office expenses and leadership and committee postings.

The speaker and Senate president, for instance, saw their stipends bumped from $35,000 to $80,000 two years ago, and will now receive $86,656 on top of their base salary.

The chairmanships of the House and Senate Ways and Means Committees, two powerful positions that are currently vacant and must be filled in the new session, will carry stipends of $70,408, up from $65,000. And the Democratic majority leaders in each branch – positions currently held by state Representative Ronald Mariano (D-Quincy) and state Senator Cynthia Stone Creem (D-Newton) – will see their stipends grow from $60,000 to $64,992.

Though Massachusetts differs from many other states with its full-time Legislature, many lawmakers also hold outside jobs in the private sector to supplement their incomes.

Each branch of the Legislature most weeks holds one formal session, and for about seven months of the two-year session only informal sessions are held, which most lawmakers do not attend. Lawmakers also stay busy with committee work, their own legislative priorities, constituent services, and meetings in their districts.

All of the salary adjustments, by law, are supposed to happen by January 1 or January 2, 2019. January 2 is when the new legislators will take their oaths of office and begin the next two-year session.