Beacon Hill Roll Call, April 3-7

By Bob Katzen

Beacon Hill Roll Call

Published: 04-14-2023 8:13 AM

THE HOUSE AND SENATE: There were no roll calls in the House and Senate last week.

This week, Beacon Hill Roll Call examines the salaries and other benefits received by local state representatives.

$73,655 BASE SALARY FOR ALL 158 REPRESENTATIVES — The new base salary for the 2023-2024 session for representatives is $73,655 — up $3,119 (4.4%) from the $70,536 base salary in the 2021-2022 session.

Representatives’ salaries are up for adjustment in January every two years, either up or down, under a 1998 constitutional amendment approved by a better than two-to-one margin by voters. It requires that every two years the salaries of the governor, the other five constitutional statewide officers and all representatives and senators be increased or decreased based on data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) that measures the quarterly change in salaries and wages.

Representatives’ base salaries were increased by $2,515 for the 2021-2022 legislative session; $3,709 for the 2019-2020 session; and $2,515 for the 2017-2018 legislative session. Those hikes came on the heels of a salary freeze for the 2015-2016 legislative session, a $1,100 pay cut for the 2013-2014 session and a $306 pay cut for the 2011-2012 session. Prior to 2011, legislators’ salaries had been raised every two years since the $46,410 base pay was first raised under the constitutional amendment in 2001.

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The new $73,655 base salary means representatives’ base salaries have been raised $27,245, or 58%, since 2011 when the mandated salary adjustment became part of the state constitution and representatives were earning $46,410.

EXTRA PAY FOR 103 REPRESENTATIVES — One hundred and three of the current 158 representatives receive an additional stipend, ranging from $7,096 to $109,163, above the $73,655 base salary, for their positions in the Democratic and Republican leadership, as committee chairs, vice chairs and the ranking Republican on some committees. Fifty-five representatives do not receive a stipend. The stipend is increased or decreased every two years based on data from the BEA that measures the quarterly change in salaries and wages.

House Speaker Ronald Mariano (D-Quincy), the top Democrat, earns the highest stipend of any representative: $109,163. House Minority Leader Rep. Bradley Jones (R-North Reading), the top Republican, earns an $81,872 stipend.

Supporters say legislators in these important positions should be appropriately compensated for their many added responsibilities and hard work.

Critics say the base salary is sufficient and is eligible to be increased every two years.

$20,468 OR $27,291 FOR GENERAL EXPENSES — Each representative also receives an annual general expense pay allowance of $20,468 for members who live within a 50-mile radius of the Statehouse and $27,291 for those who are located outside of that radius.

This separate, flat-rate expense allowance is taxable as income. It is designed to pay for some of the costs of representatives’ district offices and other expenses including contributions to local civic groups and the printing and mailing of newsletters. Representatives are not required to submit an accounting of how they spend the money. But they are allowed to deduct any expenses, permitted under federal law, from their gross income on their federal and state tax returns.

REPRESENTATIVES WHO LIVE 50 OR MORE MILES FROM THE STATEHOUSE ARE ELIGIBLE TO PAY A REDUCED OR NO FEDERAL INCOME TAX ON THEIR LEGISLATIVE SALARY — Representatives who live more than 50 miles from the Statehouse are eligible for a special federal tax break. A 1981 federal law allows them to write off a daily expense allowance when filing their federal income tax return. The complicated system determines a daily amount, ostensibly for meals, lodging and other expenses incurred in the course of their jobs, which can be deducted for every “legislative day.”

Under the Massachusetts Legislature’s system and schedule, every day of the year qualifies as a legislative day. The Legislature does not formally “prorogue” (end an annual session) until the next annual session begins. This allows legislators to take the deduction for all 365 days regardless of whether the Legislature is actually meeting or not. Legislators do not even have to travel to the Statehouse to qualify for the daily deduction.

The amount of the deduction is based on the federal per diem for Massachusetts. It varies from year to year. The daily per diem for legislators for fiscal year 2023 varies in different parts of the state and is seasonal. It ranges from $98 per day to $459 per day or between $35,770 and $167,535 annually.

Beacon Hill Roll Call’s research indicates that 41 of the state’s 158 representatives live more than 50 miles from the Statehouse, qualify for this deduction and are eligible to pay a reduced or no federal income tax on their legislative salaries.

PARKING SPACE — Representatives are entitled to a parking space inside the Statehouse garage or at the nearby McCormack State Office Building. The first $300 in monthly value of the space is a tax-free benefit under federal and state guidelines that apply to all public and private employees, not just state representatives. Any value of the space above this amount is treated as taxable income.

The value of the parking spaces in 2023 was determined by the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance to be $449 per month. Based on that figure, legislators would be taxed on the excess $149 monthly by the Internal Revenue Service and the state.

HEALTH INSURANCE — Representatives are eligible to choose from nine health insurance plans offered by the state’s Group Insurance Commission, which manages the plans for over 137,000 individuals — current and retired state workers, as well as certain municipal workers, and their dependents.

Representatives elected on or before July 1, 2003, pay 20% of the total premium and the state pays 80%. Those elected to their first term on or after July 1, 2003 pay 25% while the state picks up 75%. State and federal privacy regulations protect this information and it is not possible to obtain records about which plans individual legislators have purchased. The out-of-pocket monthly premiums paid by representatives for family plans range from $311.02 to $788.43. For individual plans, they pay from $125.66 to $354.68 each month.

LIFE INSURANCE — Representatives who purchase a health insurance policy from the state are also required to buy the state’s basic $5,000 life insurance policy. This costs employees $1.27 to $1.59 per month, depending on the date of hire. The same 20/80 25/75 formula used for health insurance also applies to this life insurance. Representatives also have the option to buy additional life insurance with a value of up to eight times their salary. The entire premium for the optional insurance is paid by the representative.

LONG-TERM DISABILITY AND HEALTH CARE SPENDING ACCOUNT — Representatives also have the option to open a Health Care Spending Account (HCSA) and Dependent Care Assistance Program (DCAP), and to buy long-term disability insurance. The HCSA allows legislators to set aside funds to pay for out-of-pocket health care expenses with before-tax dollars while the DCAP allows them to set aside funds to pay for certain dependent care expenses with before-tax dollars. This participation reduces their federal and state income taxes. The entire premium for long-term disability is paid by legislators.

DENTAL AND VISION INSURANCE — Representatives are eligible to choose one of two dental/vision insurance plans. Current monthly employee premium costs paid by representatives for family plans range from $14.32 to $19.36, while individual plans range from $4.64 to $6.26. All representatives pay 15% of the premium and the state pays 85%.

GRAND TOTAL OF LOCAL REPRESENTATIVES’ SALARIES — Here are the top 10 representatives who are paid the highest salaries including the three categories of base pay, stipends and general expense pay allowance.

Ron Mariano (D-Quincy) $203,286; Aaron Michlewitz (D-Boston) $182,818; Brad Jones (R-North Reading) $175,995; Mike Moran (D-Brighton) $175,995; Kate Hogan (D-Stow) $162,350; Kim Ferguson (R-Holden) $148,705; Sarah Peake (D-Provincetown) $148,705; Susan Gifford (R-Wareham) $148,705; Fred Barrows (R-Mansfield) $141,882; Tony Cabral (D-New Bedford) $141,882

CATEGORY #1 — LOCAL REPRESENTATIVES’ BASE SALARIES — Local representatives’ base salaries are $73,655. They are the same for all representatives.

CATEGORY #2 — LOCAL REPRESENTATIVES’ STIPENDS — Here are local representatives’ stipends for their positions in the Democratic and Republican leadership, as committee chairs, vice chairs and the ranking Republican on some committees.

Rep. Natalie Blais, $7,096; Rep. Daniel Carey, $20,468; Rep. Mindy Domb, $20,468; Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, $7,096; Rep. Aaron Saunders, $0

CATEGORY #3 — LOCAL REPRESENTATIVES’ GENERAL EXPENSE PAY ALLOWANCE — Here are local representatives’ pay for general office expenses. The amount is $20,468 for members who live within a 50-mile radius of the Statehouse and $27,291 for those who are located outside of that radius The Valley’s representatives receive the latter figure.

GRAND TOTAL OF LOCAL REPRESENTATIVES’ SALARIES — Here are the top 10 representatives who are paid the highest total salaries including the three categories of base pay, stipends and general expense pay allowance.

Ron Mariano (D-Quincy) $203,286; Aaron Michlewitz (D-Boston) $182,818; Brad Jones (R-North Reading) $175,995; Mike Moran (D-Brighton) $175,995; Kate Hogan (D-Stow) $162,350; Kim Ferguson (R-Holden) $148,705; Sarah Peake (D-Provincetown) $148,705; Susan Gifford (R-Wareham) $148,705; Fred Barrows (R-Mansfield) $141,882; Tony Cabral (D-New Bedford) $141,882

Here are local representatives’ current total annual salary including the three categories of base pay, stipends and general expense pay allowance.

Rep. Natalie Blais, $108,041; Rep. Daniel Carey, $121,414; Rep. Mindy Domb, $121,414; Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, $108,041; Rep. Aaron Saunders, $100,946

ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL

ALLOW TEMPORARY LICENSE PLATES — A new Massachusetts law that took effect last week would allow car dealers and sellers in Massachusetts to provide temporary nine-day license plates for vehicles that are purchased by out-of-state residents and allow them to use the plates until the vehicle can be driven to and registered in their home state. The measure went into effect last week but was originally approved by the Legislature and signed into law by former Gov. Charlie Baker in January. Under Massachusetts law, most new laws take effect 90 days following the governor’s signing of them.

Supporters say that under prior regulations, out-of-staters leave the dealership after a purchase and are forced to coordinate a complicated delivery across state lines to their home state while the new law will allow these buyers to take their vehicles home straight off the lot rather than wait for delivery. They argue this will save dealerships and consumers the cost of delivery and ensure that the sales tax revenue flows to Bay State coffers rather than to those of the buyer’s home state.

“Big news!” tweeted Rep. Smitty Pignatelli (D-Lenox). “Effective today, the @MassRMV will start issuing temporary registration plates. This policy will generate millions in revenue for our commonwealth and is an added convenience to customers and dealers. Glad to be a part of the team that worked hard to get this done.”

ESTABLISH INDEPENDENT REDISTRICTING COMMISSION (S 7) — The Election Laws Committee held a hearing on a proposed constitutional amendment that would establish a seven-member redistricting commission to draw Massachusetts legislative and congressional districts every 10 years. The plan then would be submitted to the Legislature, which would vote it up or down. The amendment would replace current law which allows the Legislature itself to draw the districts.

The proposed commission would include a dean or professor of law, political science or government from a Massachusetts college, appointed by the governor; a retired judge, appointed by the attorney general; and an expert in civil rights law, appointed by the secretary of state. The other four members would be chosen by the above three members from a list of candidates nominated by the House Speaker, House Minority Leader, Senate President and Senate Minority Leader.

The proposal requires the commission to follow specific rules, including ensuring that districts are compact and contiguous and are not drawn for the purpose of diluting the voting strength of any group based on race, ethnicity, language, minority status or for the purpose of augmenting or diluting the voting strength of a political party or any individual.

The commission also would be required to attempt to follow other guidelines, including preventing a city or town from being divided into more than one district.

Sponsor Sen. Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) said current law allowing the Legislature itself to redraw districts leads to concerns over the objectivity and transparency of the redistricting process.

“This issue has recently gained national attention because of the allegations against Republican-controlled state Legislatures ‘gerrymandering’ districts to disproportionately benefit Republicans,” said Eldridge. “Although Democrats have supermajorities in both chambers of our state Legislature, Massachusetts should be a leader on objective, transparent and equitable redistricting procedures.”

FAKE SERVICE ANIMALS (H 1481) — A bill that would make it a crime for anyone to misrepresent that a dog or other animal is a service animal was heard by the Judiciary Committee. First-time offenders would be required to perform 30 hours of community service for an organization that serves individuals with disabilities and/or up to a $500 fine. Subsequent offenses would be punishable by 60 hours of community service and/or up to a $1,000 fine.

“The bill seeks to protect service dogs and their handlers from people who are abusing the rights afforded to them under the Americans with Disabilities Act,” said sponsor Rep. Kim Ferguson (R-Holden). “Whether intentional or not, people who try to pass their pets off as service dogs, in order to bring them into businesses, public places, etc. are breaking the law and are taking advantage of access rights afforded to the individuals who need working service dogs and the support they provide day to day.”

“I think we can agree that we have seen many pets in stores, restaurants [and] places of business … riding in shopping carts, dressed up in clothing or being a nuisance— simply because they are pets, not highly trained service dogs,” continued Ferguson. “At times, it is also impacting members of the general public who want to be in a place of business — a restaurant, etc. — without someone’s pet interfering unnecessarily — eating off plates, sniffing at their food, barking or snarling. This has become an increasing problem throughout the country, so much so that 27 other states have had to pass laws such as this.”

ANIMAL ABUSE REGISTRY (H 1557) — Another bill heard by the Judiciary Committee would create a registry of Massachusetts residents convicted of abusing animals and require the abusers to register. A first conviction of failure to register would be punishable by up to five years in jail and/or up to a $1,000 fine. Subsequent convictions would result in a mandatory 5-year prison sentence.

Animal shelters, breeders and pet stores would be prohibited from selling or giving an animal to any registered offender. First time violators would face a prison sentence of up to one year or up to a $1,000 fine. Subsequent offenders would be subject to a 5-year prison sentence and a $5,000 fine.

“Studies have shown that individuals that abuse animals tend to eventually exert that behavior to humans,” said Rep. Steve Howitt (R-Seekonk). “A person who abuses an animal should not be allowed to obtain [one] and continue their abuse. This bill would red flag these individuals.”

QUOTABLE QUOTES

“The cost of labor remains an elevated concern for small business owners, many of whom still can’t hire qualified workers. Beacon Hill must heed the warnings from beleaguered employers and reject special interest group demands to increase the minimum wage to an unsustainable $20 per hour. Further driving up the cost of doing business would be detrimental to economic growth and could not only put a chill on job creation but increase the cost of products and services for Massachusetts consumers.”

— Christopher Carlozzi, Massachusetts State Director of the National Federation of Independent Business.

“As our veteran population evolves and their medical needs become more complex, it is imperative that they have access to quality care. I appreciate their commitment to providing critical primary care, specialty and emergency care services to our veterans.”

— Veterans’ Services Secretary Jon Santiago following his visit with Vincent Ng, Director of the VA Boston Healthcare system to discuss shared priorities in supporting the health of veterans.

“One reason why patients are paying more for prescription drugs out of pocket is that middlemen — commercial pharmacies and pharmacy benefit managers — add substantial costs over wholesale prices. Allowing prescribers to dispense routine drugs — often at a fraction of the price — would give patients a more affordable option.”

— Josh Archambault, co-author of “Prescriber Dispense Makes Sense: Massachusetts Can Lower Prescription Drug Costs by Joining 45 States that Allow Direct Dispensing.”

“Today’s recipient organizations contribute immeasurably to the life of our commonwealth as nonprofits fulfilling unique missions. The security enhancements made possible by this funding ensure their continued preparedness against potential threats. Our administration remains committed to ensuring the safety of those they service as centers of community, art and culture, learning and social services.”

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com

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