LAWMAKERS WILL FINALLY take up the recommendations for salary hikes for elected officials laid out in a 2014 report but the plan could be dead on arrival as Gov. Charlie Baker said he has no intention of accepting a raise and will “carefully review” any bill for pay increases that makes it to his office.
The special report issued in December, 2014, by a commission set up by the Legislature called for dramatic increases in salaries for the constitutional officers as well as the Senate President and House Speaker, hikes that would make the officials among the highest paid in the country.
The report also recommended that the so-called per diems – daily stipends paid to lawmakers for each day the Legislature is in session – and replace it with a $10,000 to $15,000 expense stipend depending on how far the legislator lives from Beacon Hill.
But when the report was issued less than a month after the 2014 elections, the public outcry forced lawmakers to retreat. Among the recommendations was increasing the governor’s salary from the current $151,000 to $185,000 and raising the Speaker’s and the Senate President’s pay from $102,000 to $175,000, including the stipends and added pay for the leadership positions.
Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stan Rosenberg issued a measured statement announcing the plan to hold hearings Thursday and gave no indication what the impetus was for taking up the two-year-old report just weeks after being sworn in for the new term.
“That report outlines the findings of a non-partisan group of experts,” the pair said in the statement. “The Legislature has yet to hold a public hearing on either this report or an earlier 2008 report. We look forward to the hearing and testimony from experts and the general public on the 2014 report.”
But Baker put a damper on the hearings. “The Governor and Lt. Governor have no plans to accept a pay increase and will carefully review any legislation that comes to the governor’s desk,” Baker press secretary Billy Pittman said in an email.
Salaries for legislators and constitutional officers are set by a constitutional amendment passed by voters nearly 20 years ago. In addition to setting the salaries, the amendment also dictates that raises and decreases are set by the governor based on the median household income. In December, Baker approved a 4.1 percent increase for legislative salaries based on the rise in median household income. Any increase in the base salary structure and how to calculate them would require a constitutional change.
But legislators can increase the stipends for expenses and various leadership positions through legislation and could easily override any veto by Baker. With the increase approved by Baker, lawmakers currently are paid $62,547. In addition, they each receive $7,200 for expenses that is paid directly in their bimonthly checks and does not require documentation, bringing their pay to more than $70,000. Many leadership positions, chairmen, vice chairmen also receive stipends ranging from $7,500 to $25,000.
The report’s recommendations include raising the expense stipend as well as the leadership and chairmanship stipends, saying inflation has watered down the value of the stipend. The report points out, for instance, the $35,000 for Speaker and Senate President – positions they equate to “chairman of the Board” or “chief operating officers” at private corporations – should be $86,000 when adjusted for inflation.
“This same stipend has been in effect since 1982,” the report’s authors wrote. “The Senate President and House Speaker together are the leaders of a co-equal branch of state government. Both positions wield enormous authority over the budget, operations of state government and legislation, and both positions, along with that of Governor, require those who hold the positions to be on-call at all times.”