Local lawmakers defend raises

 

The Recorder


Recorder Staff

Thursday, January 26, 2017

While admitting it’s uncomfortable, area legislators are defending passage of nearly $18 million in pay raises for top legislators, statewide elected officials and judges.

The measure passed in the Senate by 31-9 vote in favor of the legislation Thursday, a day after the House approved the proposal.

Hours after formally receiving their plan, Gov. Charlie Baker informed legislative Democrats that he intends to veto the pay raises in a move that may carry more political weight for the Republican governor than practical implications.

For new Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, “the timing was horrible, personally,” as he voted for what would probably be a more than doubling of the $7,200 stipend he’s likely to receive when he gets his committee chairmanship assignment in coming days.

But Hinds supported the bill, he said, knowing that it represented the first such increase since 1982 and knowing that it won’t require an additional budget allocation in this fiscal year, which goes through June.

It doesn’t affect the base pay of roughly $62,000, and the doubling of the office expense account from roughly $7,500 is offset in elimination of the controversial “per-diem” reimbursements for mileage and other travel expenses from Pittsfield into Boston.

The annual salary for House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stan Rosenberg, both Democrats, would climb about $45,000 to more than $142,000 a year.

Rosenberg, D-Amherst, said he and DeLeo had roughly halved the $86,000 increase for their pay that was recommended by an independent commission that had issued a report two years ago on boosting the stipends for legislative leadership and committee chairmen.

Office accounts have been frozen at $7,200 for 16 years, so they were raised to $20,000 for legislators living more than 50 miles from the Statehouse.

“There’s never a good time to do it, because there are always compelling needs and interests that aren’t fully funded,” Rosenberg said. “Most people think we make more than this proposal would actually bring us up to.”

Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, who has been vice chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, would see his additional pay double from $15,000 to $30,000 over the his $62,000 base pay.

“It’s always awkward because it makes legislators and our constituents uncomfortable, especially at the beginning of the session,” said Kulik. “But the commission’s recommendations were solid and justified.”

It’s important to increase the stipends, he said, because the additional time and responsibility it takes to handle leadership and chairmanship positions “is enormous. It’s important to compensate people.”

Kulik said that he has received $74 for each day he drives 120 miles from Worthington to Boston — roughly $6,000 to $7,000 a year — which will be eliminated and replaced with a larger office allowance.

Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, who says he took a “significant” pay cut from his job as a Verizon lineman to become a state representative, said, “A great barrier to running for office is the fact that this job and executive branch jobs just do not pay attractively enough to recruit people that have other options. There is no way under the current system that someone from western Massachusetts could ever run for governor unless they are a millionaire. And that’s not right.”

He added, “There’s never going to be a time when this is popular. When you can only do a raise like this every 30 years, it has to be bigger than maybe it would be if we did it every four. It looks bad, but there’s never going to be a time when the budget is so full of money … but I think if you want good government, you have to make it more attractive to come into these jobs and serve people. And it shouldn’t be reserved for the wealthy only.”

Rep. Susannah Whipps Lee, R-Athol, who — along with other House Republicans — voted against the raises, and would see her office allowance go from $7,200 to $15,000, said, “I don’t think the increases are excessive,” noting that she now spends more than $7,200 a year to rent her Athol district office alone, and that inflation since 1982, when stipends were frozen, has been dramatic.

Whipps Lee, who as a relatively new, minority party legislator has no chairmanships, said it’s important to boost stipends especially as a way of attracting more western Massachusetts legislators to fill those posts.

“It’s a great financial hardship getting to Boston,” she said. “If they aren’t paid a good rate, we will not have western Mass. leaders.”

She also argued that it’s also important to raise the salary of the governor, who administers a $40 billion budget and would likely be making a seven-figure salary if he were in the private sector.

The bill would boost Republican Gov. Charlie Baker’s annual salary from $151,800 to $185,000, and for the first time would provide the governor a $65,000 housing allowance.

Whipps Lee said her main opposition was that the vote on the raises came quickly, with no time for public hearings to gauge the feelings of her constituents.

(Reporting by The Associated Press was included in
this report.)