On Beacon Hill, help is easy to find

Massachusetts lawmakers have pared back the size of the legislative staff in the midst of the current recession but the state still ranks as one of the most aide-heavy legislatures in the country.

Last year, Bay State lawmakers had 903 year-round staffers to assist them in their day-to-day affairs, according to the most recent data compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures. That averages out to 4.5 permanent staffers per legislator, and it’s down 3.5 percent, or 32 jobs, since 2003.

Of the five states that had larger legislatures than Massa­chusetts, only New York and Pennsylvania employed more permanent staffers, with the two states averaging 12.6 and 11.5 staffers per lawmaker, respectively. California ranks the highest, with 17.2 permanent staff members for each lawmaker, but the Golden State, which has six times the population of Massachusetts, has just 120 legislators compared with the 200 here (160 House members and 40 Senate members).   

The national average is 3.7 permanent staffers per legislator, but that can be misleading since a number of states have part-time legislatures, which add temporary staff positions while they are in session.  

Massachusetts ranks sixth nationally in the size of its Legislature, just behind Minnesota’s 201, but paling in comparison to New Hampshire’s 464 part-time citizen-legislators. Our neighbors to the north employ 147 permanent staff members and add on another 32 temps during the times they’re in session, for an average of 0.3 permanent staffers per legislator.

Since 1979, Massachusetts has increased its permanent legislative staff payroll by nearly 52 percent. That’s far below the national average increase of 91 percent among all legislatures. New Mexico recorded an eye-popping 330 percent in­crease in permanent staffers over the last 30 years, but it had only 40 legislative aides to start with in 1979, and lawmakers themselves don’t get a penny for serving.

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

According to the Massachusetts Senate rules, each member can hire at least four aides and some can get the green light from the Senate President to hire more, depending on their seniority or committee assignments. In the House, representatives are allowed to hire one aide but the principal committee on which they sit has additional staff members who carry out tasks for members.

The Senate president, in addition to staff allotted to handle district duties, is authorized to have at least four additional aides. The House Speaker, in addition to district staff, has at least five aides.