Baker hints at pay raise veto
But House passes bill with room to spare
GOV. CHARLIE BAKER said little has changed to sway him since he threatened to veto a legislative pay raise bill two years ago, but said he’ll wait to see the final legislation now making its way through the Legislature before making his decision.
Baker’s comments on Wednesday came minutes after the House passed a controversial measure to jack up the compensation for the House Speaker and Senate president by more than 50 percent, including a robust increase in the expense stipend earmarked for all lawmakers. The vote was 116 to 44, with nine Democrats joining all 35 Republicans in voting no. The margin is nine votes more than the two-thirds vote needed to override a veto. It now moves to the Senate for a vote on Thursday and should be on Baker’s desk by Friday.
The bill had been based on a two-year-old report that had not been acted upon after it was released in December 2014, and then-incoming Gov. Baker said he would “probably veto” the measure because of a large budget gap facing the Commonwealth. On Wednesday, as he unveiled his fiscal 2018 budget, Baker said the same challenges are facing state officials.
“We said in 2014 that we didn’t think that a pay raise made sense at that time, and I don’t see a lot that’s changed with respect to that,” said Baker, adding he has a standard practice of not committing until he sees a final bill.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stan Rosenberg had concerns over potential ethics conflicts of legislators voting on their own pay. A letter from the Ethics Commission indicated that even though lawmakers would benefit from the measure, including raises for the other two branches qualified it as “general legislation,” which allowed them to vote on it.
The indication was that DeLeo and Rosenberg, who co-sponsored the bill, put the judiciary in to broaden the scope and allow the vote, even though the special commission that made the pay hike recommendations made no mention of judges, who received a hike just three years ago.
But on Wednesday, the Boston Globe reported a clause in the state’s constitution bars judges’ compensation from being subject to an initiative petition, meaning there can be no ballot question to repeal the raises in 2018.
House Ways and Means Chairman Brian Dempsey said while the bill kept the increases recommended for the constitutional officers intact, drafters thought it was prudent to reduce the suggested $175,000 salaries for Senate president and House Speaker because of the need to bring other stipends in line. The legislative portion of the bill will cost $1.4 million for the remainder of the fiscal year and $5 million for the other branches.
“We felt that it was important to take into consideration the need to make some changes, but do so in a way that is sensitive to the challenges we face,” Dempsey said in arguing for passage on the floor.Though all Republicans held rank in voting against the measure, there was little floor opposition. Only five amendments were filed and three were withdrawn. The two remaining came from Rep. James Lyons, who asked for the raises to be delayed until 2019 if passed and also to limit the increases in stipends to 4 percent, roughly the same increase lawmakers got in their base salary last month.
“This is changing the rules in the middle of the game,” the Andover Republican said. “To suggest to the taxpayers that it is fair to give out 40 and 50 percent raises when we’re looking at [budget] cuts and declining revenues is simply unfair.”