Did Mullan deserve a raise?

Secretary of Transportation Jeffrey Mullan could make a pretty good case for a raise.

Mullan was making $160,000 a year in September 2009 as executive director of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority when Gov. Deval Patrick appointed him as his cabinet secretary for transportation. It was a big promotion, but Mullan had to swallow a $10,000 pay cut to take the job.

Shortly after Mullan took the position, the duties of the secretary expanded dramatically under transportation reform. Mullan today oversees the state’s highway and bridge system, the MBTA, and the Registry of Motor Vehicles. He also is chairman of the board of the Massachusetts Port Authority, which runs Logan Airport and the seaport.

It’s an immense job with a paycheck that has not kept pace with the responsibilities. For example, Mullan and his highway commissioner oversee a road and bridge system that was run by four executives prior to transportation reform. Mullan and his highway commissioner are paid a combined $275,000, while the four executives they replaced (the previous secretary, the highway commissioner, the executive director of the Turnpike Authority, and the director of the Tobin Bridge) were paid a combined $590,657.

Mullan reportedly broached his financial situation with Patrick in May. It’s unclear what exactly was said during their meeting, but Mullan apparently pointed out to the governor that his responsibilities – but not his salary – had increased. The governor declined to give Mullan a raise and Mullan indicated he would be leaving state government sometime later this year.

The story was leaked to the Globe late last week by “two people close to the governor.”  Mullan was coming under fire for his handling of a light fixture that fell in a Big Dig tunnel in February, and the story’s timing made it seem as if he was leaving under a cloud. Administration officials say Mullan is leaving because he felt he couldn’t afford to continue working at such a demanding job at his current pay.

According to top aides, Gov. Patrick, who makes $140,000 a year, believes state officials should work for less than they would in the private sector as a form of public service. He has held the line on cabinet salaries (all cabinet secretaries earn a uniform $150,000 a year) and reined in the pay of top executives at many of the state’s quasi-public authorities who were making $250,000 to more than $300,000 a year.

But, as CommonWealth has reported, the governor’s compensation philosophy hasn’t always been consistent. For example, Patrick didn’t get religion on reining in authority salaries until his bid to install a state senator in a $175,000-a-year job at a now-defunct authority blew up in controversy. He also hasn’t touched the $285,000-a-year salary of the woman hired to run the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, the one authority his administration created. She oversees just seven employees.

There are also rumblings out of Massport that the search for a new CEO isn’t going well. Tom Kinton, the former Massport administrator, left after Mullan refused to support a bid to raise his salary from $296,000 to $318,000. What the new administrator’s salary will be hasn’t been disclosed, but it’s expected to be significantly less.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

A commission appointed by Patrick to study compensation at the state’s quasi-public authorities reported in August 2009 that pay packages “as a broad generalization” were “appropriate and reflect legitimately the context of each of their industries.” The report was more critical of perks offered to many authority executives and the failure of authority boards to include retirement benefits in salary comparisons they use to develop compensation packages.

Stephen Crosby, dean of the McCormack School at the University of Massachusetts Boston and the person who headed Patrick’s compensation commission, said Mullan’s decision to leave state government means setting an appropriate level of pay for a government job continues to be controversial.  He said transportation reform has dramatically changed the nature of the secretary of transportation’s job, and the enormous responsibility and relatively low salary of the post will make it difficult to find a replacement.

“It’s a crusher of a job and it requires immense talent,” Crosby said. “I wouldn’t do that job for $150,000. I’d only think about taking it at $350,000.”