Quick and quiet hearing on salaries report
Lawmakers ask few questions in hearing to raise compensation for Speaker and Senate President
ONE OF THE authors of a report recommending higher compensation for the state’s top elected officials said on Thursday he was “surprised” a joint legislative panel took two years to hold a hearing on the matter but said the pay raises should be adopted to ensure the state’s top elected officials are paid what they’re worth.
“We were surprised,” said UMass vice provost Ira Jackson, a former commissioner of revenue who chaired the special commission set up by the Legislature to study compensation. “There’s never a good time to have this conversation but it’s long overdue to have this conversation.”
Jackson and several members of his panel testified before the Joint Committee on Ways and Means. While there were more than two dozen lawmakers in attendance, there were very few questions. There is no legislation yet, and it’s unclear when, and if, a bill will emerge on Beacon Hill.
The special commission’s report calls for raising the governor’s salary from its current level of $151,800 to $185,000 and providing a $65,000-a-year housing allowance.
The report also recommends increasing the salaries of the speaker, Senate president, attorney general, and state treasurer to $175,000 and the lieutenant governor, auditor, and secretary of state to $165,000. All the increases would put Massachusetts at the top or very close to the top in the nation for those positions, with the proposed salaries for speaker and Senate president being the highest, even when adjusting for the state’s high cost of living.
The two legislative leaders would see the biggest boost with a whopping 71 percent hike from their current $102,579 pay, which includes a $35,000 stipend for the positions and $7,200 in undocumented expense money that all legislators receive. The other constitutional officers would get raises between 22 and 37 percent.
“They lead co-equal branches of government and they should earn as much as the other equal branches of government,” Jackson said. “We have an attorney general who is the chief lawyer for the state and she earns less than a first-year associate at a major Boston law firm.”
Chip Faulkner, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation, and Thomas O’Neil, a retired businessman from South Deerfield, were the only two people to testify, both opposing the plan.
“What part of the constitution do they not understand?” Faulkner asked, citing the amendment that specifically spells out how salaries can be increased. “This is far beyond the spirit of what voters want.”
Falkner also lambasted the timing of the hearing, noting Donald Trump is set to be inaugurated with many of the state’s Republicans heading down to Washington for the event.
State Rep. Angelo Scaccia of Hyde Park was the only lawmaker to voice support for the proposal, which does not include significant compensation increases for rank and file members.
“Without a raise, you may not get the quality of people that you want,” said Scaccia. “We do this because we love it, but nobody’s running any more. It’s absolutely nuts. I love what you’re doing today.”
In December, Baker signed an order granting lawmakers a 4.1 percent increase in base salary, bringing their pay to $62,547 for the next two years. Lawmakers’ base salary was set by a constitutional amendment passed by voters in 1998 and mandates it be increased or decreased by the governor in line with fluctuations in median household income.Scaccia said his wife made plans for the couple to fly to the Caribbean for a conference when she learned he was getting a raise, but then canceled the trip when she discovered how small it was before taxes.
“Instead of going to Jamaica, we’re now going to Jamaica Plain,” the Hyde Park Democrat said to laughter.