Patrick fires a shot in the dark at legislators
As Gov. Deval Patrick (until noon Thursday, that is) strolled out of the State House Wednesday evening on his not-so Lone Walk, there was likely one common thought running through the minds of the legislators he left behind: “Don’t let the door hit your butt on the way out.”
As his term has been winding down, Patrick protested to anyone who would listen that his icy relationship with lawmakers was “urban legend,” ticking off accomplishments he said were forged through hard work by both branches.
But after the lights were turned out in the State House Wednesday night and while he was at home packing to leave Thursday for his long-awaited vacation in South America, the departing governor sent one final dart at his buddies down the hall: He declined to approve a pay raise for lawmakers, filing a letter with the state Treasurer saying his calculations determined they don’t qualify for a hike in salary because the median income of Massachusetts households had not increased.
Patrick was constitutionally bound to review and determine if legislators should get a pay increase based on whether the median income of Massachusetts households had increased – and, conversely, cut the salaries if the median income went down.
“I regret this outcome,” Patrick wrote to Treasurer Steven Grossman, who himself is leaving in less than two weeks. “As you know, I believe that an adjustment in base compensation for legislators and constitutional officers is warranted.”
Two years ago, following the same formula for growth in the median income of Massachusetts households, he cut legislative pay by $1,100 and, two years before that, he sliced it by one-half of 1 percent. Many hoped the governor would approve a perfunctory hike based on the state’s improving economy.
“It surely is going to go up,” outgoing Massachusetts Taxpayer Foundation president Michael Widmer told theBoston Herald last month. “The question is how much.” The answer is zero.
The decision has the potential to be a contentious issue on Beacon Hill. A special commission set up by the Legislature recommended last month huge pay hikes for the House Speaker and Senate President as well as increases for most of the constitutional officers. The commission also recommended a change in the way the state median income is calculated that would have resulted in a 6.6 percent increase in the legislative base salary.
Patrick said he supported the commission’s findings and would have embraced changing the formula for calculating median income, though he said he wanted lawmakers to first address the pending revenue shortfalls. But with the looming budget deficit and indications from Gov. Charlie Baker that he would not support pay increases while there was a gap in the budget, Speaker Robert DeLeo opted not to bring the pay-raise measure to a vote before the House. Even if the Legislature did pass the pay-raise package and overrode a Baker veto, the package still wouldn’t take effect for two years since a sitting Legislature can’t raise its own pay.
Resentment about another year without a pay hike is surely festering on Beacon Hill. State Rep. Angelo Scaccia of Hyde Park, the dean of the House, expressed what’s on many members’ minds when he held the gavel before the reelection of DeLeo as speaker on Wednesday. Scaccia made what was perhaps the day’s most pointed reference to the controversial legislation while introducing honored guests, including former House speaker Thomas Finneran.
“Twelve years ago, I was making $60,000,” Scaccia said only half-jokingly. “Today, I am making $60,000 a year because of [Finneran’s] constitutional amendment that allows the people to decide what we are going to make. Thank you Tom Finneran.”
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