STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
GOV. CHARLIE BAKER needled the legislative pay hikes that lawmakers approved for themselves this week as “fiscally irresponsible,” but defended the Legislature’s process and stopped short of saying he’ll lobby lawmakers to sustain the veto he handed down on Friday.
The controversial $18 million package of pay raises for lawmakers, judges and constitutional officers was swept through the House and Senate this week with veto-proof majorities. Republican lawmakers were united in their opposition to the raises and Baker declared his veto plans after receiving the bill.
“For most people, the timing of this is inappropriate, and the scale and size of the adjustment is as well,” Baker said Friday during a press conference he called in his office to discuss the matter.
While Baker was coy about whether he would directly lobby lawmakers to reverse their votes, the party he leads was direct about its intentions. Digital ads are being launched by Republicans targeting freshman Democrats who voted for the pay raises — 10 House newcomers voted for the bill and two new senators.
“These freshman Democrat legislators may be pleased enough with their performance in the past few weeks to merit a raise, but their employers – the taxpayers – might disagree. By voting to give themselves a taxpayer-funded raise before they have accomplished much of anything, these freshmen have shown they’re wasting no time adjusting to the Beacon Hill insider culture,” MassGOP spokesman Terry MacCormack said in a statement.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s office and Senate President Stan Rosenberg’s office declined to respond Friday to the governor’s veto and criticisms. A House source said the House plans to vote on overriding the governor’s veto next week.
Baker added at his press conference that he and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito “hope this action will at least ensure that the citizens have more time to make their voices heard.”
Baker said hundreds of people have called his office with concerns about the pay raises and Baker implored them to “share their concerns with their own senators and representatives, many of whom agree with our decision.”
Legislative leaders have taken heat this week for the way they went about boosting their paychecks, having never held a public hearing on the bill itself but instead holding one on a 2014 report recommending even greater pay increases, and hurrying the package through their branches.
But Baker on Friday defended the process, despite vetoing the bill and suggesting citizens direct their concerns at the Legislature.
“In fairness to them, OK, on the hearing, they had the hearing on the 2014 report,” he said. “The process they pursued on this has been public. I mean, everybody voted on it, they’re on the record on it.”
In his veto letter though, Baker faulted the process, saying the bill passed “without a reasonable opportunity for public comment.”
Assuming the votes hold, opponents would need to flip 10 additional Democrat votes in the House or five in the Senate to sustain Baker’s veto. All 41 Republicans in the House and Senate voted against the bill.
Asked whether he will lobby Democrats to flip their vote and uphold his veto, the Republican governor said he is “certainly going to talk to some of the folks who have been supportive of our position on this and see what thoughts they have about what might make sense going forward.”
When a reporter pointed out that if his veto is to be upheld he’ll need people who don’t already agree with him to come around to his point of view, Baker said, “They’re members of both parties and members of both branches, and I think their insights on this is probably the best place for us to start.”
Baker also suggested, and gave as an explanation of his veto, that the pay raise bill would eliminate laws meant to limit statewide officeholders from receiving pay for more than two straight terms. But court decisions, media coverage and state officials suggest that those laws were overturned by the state’s highest court almost 20 years ago.
“Upon our further review, this legislation would effectively repeal the terms limits voters set for constitutional offices at the ballot box in 1994,” he said. In a statement, he suggested it was “perhaps as a consequence of this rushed process.”
The governor’s office pointed to language in the general laws that prohibits constitutional officers — except the governor — from receiving compensation if they serve more than two consecutive terms.
Voters approved the language as a 1994 ballot initiative, but the Supreme Judicial Court invalidated the entire ballot law in 1997, according to Secretary of State William Galvin’s office. A House official said the language was “inoperative” and the bill was the first revision of the statutes since the decision and the measure gave lawmakers the first opportunity to rewrite and eliminate the invalid sections.
A Baker press aide said the governor’s chief legal counsel, Lon Povich, was not available to discuss the term limits language and SJC decision with the News Service.
Over two days this week, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg mustered veto-proof majorities in both branches for the bill that include $45,000 raises for the Legislature’s top two Democrats bringing their salaries to over $142,000. In addition to $2.8 million in salary and office expense increases for itself, the Legislature voted for $25,000 raises for judges and hikes in the pay for all six constitutional officers, including the governor.
The House enacted the pay raises on a 116-43 vote, and the Senate voted 31-9 in support of the pay raises after very little debate.
Even if the pay raises become law, Baker has said he and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito would decline the increases in their own pay, including the proposed $65,000 housing allowance for the governor that would be added to his new $185,000 salary. The raises and the new housing allowance, should they survive, would be available for Baker’s eventual successor and future governors.
A potential Baker rival in the 2018 election, Newton Mayor Setti Warren, took to Twitter Thursday night to urge fellow Democrats to change their minds about the bill. “I urge my fellow @massdems to rethink this one before the override vote. If 5 senators or 10 Reps reconsider, no pay raise,” Warren wrote.
The tweet drew a pointed response from one House Democrat. Rep. Paul Mark, a Democrat from the western Massachusetts town Peru, tweeted Thursday night, “I urge candidates for governor to practice what they preach & stop pandering to the right” with a link to a Boston Globe article about a $27,000 pay raise Warren proposed for himself as Newton mayor in 2012.
Warren was not available Friday, but advisor Kevin Franck provided a “fact sheet” detailing the circumstances of Warren’s 2012 mayoral pay increase.
The raise was approved by Newton’s Board of Aldermen after a public input process, the fact sheet said, “he didn’t decide his own raise.”
“Mayor Warren agrees that the salaries of public service positions should be competitive to … attract talented candidates and reward hard work,” the fact sheet said. “He has said the question of legislative pay raises is a valid one. His criticisms have been about the process.”
An advisor to Jay Gonzalez, a Democrat who served as the architect of Patrick’s budgets and finance policy for more than three years and is now considering a run for governor, did not respond to a request for comment Friday.
Andy Metzger contributed to this report