Editorial: Pay raise windfall for Legislature

  • State Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, is among the leaders who will receive a pay raise after the Legislature on Thursday overrode the governor’s veto. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Published: 2/2/2017 10:06:01 PM

The Massachusetts Legislature couldn’t have written a worse script for good governance than the way it rammed through pay raises for its leaders, statewide elected officials and judges.

Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, of Amherst, and House Speaker Robert DeLeo, of Winthrop, led the charge on the first major legislation of the 2017 session. Rosenberg and DeLeo are among the chief beneficiaries of the pay hikes, with their annual salaries increasing by $45,000, to $142,547 — a 46 percent boost.

The House and Senate on Thursday overrode the governor’s veto of the $18 million pay package, little more than two weeks after Rosenberg and DeLeo put the bill on the fast track to approval. That’s in contrast to the plodding pace of most other legislation, which involves months of public hearings and debate in committees before votes are scheduled.

We don’t doubt that the Legislature’s leaders deserve some increase in their stipends, which are bonuses for the extra work that goes with their positions. Those leadership bonuses have not been increased since 1982.

But lawmakers created a public relations fiasco with the heavy-handed way in which they hustled the hefty raises through the Legislature without a full public airing of the details or justification of increases that are far larger than what most of the state’s workers see in their paychecks from year to year.

Adding insult to injury, the Legislature added $25,000 pay increases for judges to the bill which has the effect of ensuring that lawmakers’ raises can’t be repealed by voters in a 2018 referendum. The state Constitution prohibits a ballot referendum adjusting judicial pay.

The pay hikes for legislative leaders, including the many committee chairs and vice chairs, take effect immediately. At the very least, increases in bonuses should be delayed to the next two-year session so legislators must stand for re-election before collecting the fatter paychecks they wrote themselves.

To his credit, Republican Gov. Charlie Baker vetoed the pay package, even though it contains more money for him as well — boosting his salary from $151,800 to $185,000 a year, and adding a new $65,000 housing allowance. Baker, who lives in Swampscott in a house valued at more than $1 million, has said he will turn down the raise and the housing stipend.

That housing allowance is among the questionable expenses in the package. It was recommended in 2014 by a special commission which studied compensation of state officials, even though the lack of state-provided housing has not been an issue for recent governors. In the last half-century, every governor except one, Jane Swift of North Adams, has lived within a reasonable commute to Boston.

In announcing the veto, Baker said the pay package is “fiscally irresponsible” and resulted from “a hasty process that included little substantive debate or time for public comment.” He also cited the impact on the state’s pension liabilities resulting from such massive raises. State pensions are based on the three highest-salaried years.

The package also includes raises for the state’s other constitutional officers — the lieutenant governor, attorney general, treasurer, auditor and secretary of state — as well as court clerks. Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, Attorney General Maura Healey and Treasurer Deb Goldberg plan to decline the raises.

The timing is particularly bad because the same Democratic legislative leaders now getting big bonuses decided last summer to skip the traditional sales tax “holiday” because the state could not afford to forgo the estimated $26 million in revenue that would have been lost. It was only the second year since 2004 that consumers did not benefit from the tax holiday.

The package given final approval Thursday does not affect the base pay of legislators, which have been tied to the state’s median household income since a constitutional amendment was adopted in 1998. For the first time in eight years, the legislators’ base salary was increased from $60,032 to $62,547 beginning in January.

The bonus pay for leadership positions is added to that. Stipends for most committee chairs are doubling from $15,000 to $30,000. Even the largely honorary positions of Senate president pro tempore and House speaker pro tempore are getting a hefty raise with their bonuses increasing from $15,000 to $50,000.

We have no argument with granting reasonable raises to legislators who work long hours for the public’s good. But there was nothing public-spirited or good about this self-delivered windfall. Lawmakers should be ashamed.




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