THE TWO TOP LEGISLATIVE leaders on Beacon Hill filed a bill Monday that would boost their own pay by more than doubling the stipends they receive for their posts as well as raise the salary of every constitutional officer and judge in the state.
In addition, the bill filed by House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg includes dramatic hikes in the stipends for every committee chairman and vice chairman, including those whose positions previously came with no additional compensation. The measure eliminates the per diem payments to rank and file lawmakers for traveling to and from the State House, while more than doubling or tripling the undocumented expense payment each lawmaker receives, depending on how far from Beacon Hill they live.
The measure is constructed in such a way that it bypasses the state Constitution, which was amended by voters to set the legislative base salary and the process for raising it. By defining the compensation increases as stipends instead of raises, lawmakers can boost their salaries and the pay of other state officials through regular legislation. Because the vote comes up before committee chair and leadership assignments have been made, lawmakers are not in danger of violating the statute that prevents them from voting on their own salaries.
Taken together, the various initiatives would boost the salary of the two top lawmakers by 46 percent, raising their pay from $97,549 to $142,547, not including an additional expense stipend. Constitutional officers would get a slightly more modest increase. Judges and clerks would receive what amounts to a cost of living adjustment.
Both DeLeo and Rosenberg defended the increase as long overdue.
“The stipends for legislative officers have not changed for 33 years,” Rosenberg told reporters as he and DeLeo emerged from their weekly legislative meeting with Gov. Charlie Baker. “Who works for the same amount for 33 years?”
DeLeo said his post is a “seven-day-a-week, 365-day-a-year job” that justifies whatever increase lawmakers approve. He said the bill was drawn from a two-year-old report written by a legislative commission to study compensation that recommended increasing the governor’s salary to $185,000 and the pay of the legislative leaders to $175,000.
“I would say I’m very pleased and happy to do what I do whatever the pay scale may be,” DeLeo said. “I’ll let the members decide. This has been discussed for a number of years and it has been discussed by a whole host of people beyond the senate president and myself.”
House Democrats are slated to caucus Tuesday morning to discuss the bill and ensure the votes are there to override a potential veto. The bill is expected to go to a vote before the full House later in the day. If passed, the measure will go before the Senate on Wednesday and then hit Baker’s desk by Thursday. The legislation includes an emergency preamble that would make the increases kick in immediately. Legislators had received a 4.1 percent increase in their base salary in December when Baker approved an adjustment because of an increase in the median household income.
The measure retains what the commission report recommended as pay hikes for the constitutional officers, increasing their pay to $165,000 to $185,000 depending on the post. The governor’s salary would go from $151,800 to $185,000, and add a $65,000-a-year housing allowance. The commission had recommended the salaries of the speaker and Senate president be raised to $175,000, but the bill filed by DeLeo and Rosenberg settles on $142,457.
Baker, who had threatened a veto when the report was first issued after his election in 2014, remained noncommittal on the new legislative proposal on Monday but repeated his vow that he and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito would not accept a pay raise.
“We are quite content with working with the compensation we have,” he told reporters.
The measure would grant the two leaders an $80,000 stipend for their posts over and above the $62,547 base salary for legislators. The chairs of the House and Senate Ways and Means Committees would get a 160 percent increase in their stipends from $25,000 to $65,000, while other members of leadership teams would go from $22,500 up to $60,000.
Other chairmanships and vice chairmanships, which currently come with $7,500 to $15,000 stipends, would see an extra $15,000 to $30,000 in their checks. Some posts which come with a title but no stipend would be in line to receive $5,200 more a year. Rank and file lawmakers do not receive stipends, but they would see their pay go up with the new expense reimbursement.
The bill allows for the salary stipends to be increased based on a formula of changes in wages in the state calculated by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. But unlike base salaries, which can be adjusted downward if median household income drops, stipends cannot be lowered, only raised.
The measure also would eliminate the controversial per diem lawmakers are paid, depending on where they live, for travel to and from the State House every day the Legislature is in session. But the bill provides a hefty boost to an expense stipend that all lawmakers receive and does not require documentation. Currently, legislators receive $7,200 for expenses; under the bill, the expense payment would increase to $15,000 for those who live within 50 miles of the State House and to $20,000 for those who live beyond 50 miles, The special commission report had recommended that the expense stipend be increased to $10,000 and $15,000, respectively.
Legislative leaders said the measure would ban constitutional officers and the speaker and Senate president from earning outside income, though there is no prohibition on the rest of the Legislature.
The bill includes modest salary hikes for all judges and clerks even though the special commission made no such recommendation. The chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Court would receive more than $206,000.
The recommendations from the special commission had pegged the costs for its proposals at just over $934,000, though that did not include the higher expense or chairmanship stipends nor the judicial increases. No estimate was given for how much the Legislature’s bill would cost.