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Big Pay Hikes Proposed For Top Elected State Officials

Massachusetts State House

An advisory commission is recommending pay increases for all the top elected state officials in Massachusetts, including hefty hikes in the salaries for the governor, the House speaker and Senate president.  A fiscal watchdog is critical.  Legislators have reacted cautiously.       

The panel’s proposal, if adopted, would make the Massachusetts governor the second highest paid nationally—behind Pennsylvania – raising the annual salary from the current $151,800 to $185,000. There is also a recommendation for a $65,000 housing allowance for the governor.

The two top legislative leaders would become the highest paid in the country, with salaries jumping from $102,279 to $175,000.   Pay hikes are also recommended for the lieutenant governor, attorney general, treasurer, secretary of state, and auditor.

Ira Jackson, the chairman of the commission, said the recommendations are based on a review of the responsibilities of each elected official, along with comparisons with other states and with top executives in the private sector.

"We find that the compensation for the governor in particular is inadequate."

The panel estimated the net annual cost of the proposals would be just under $1 million, and Jackson said that should be easily absorbed into the state’s $36 billion budget with no additional burden on taxpayers.

"We propose that if the legislature embraces our recommendations that there be a statutory requirement that mandates( the officials) all identify how they will save the increases in their salaries in their office budgets and the legislature similarly. There would have to be a public accounting."

He stressed the panel’s proposals include reforms such as a ban on the House speaker and Senate president earning outside income except from investments and an elimination of per diem reimbursements for legislators to commute to the State House from their homes.

Jackson, who is dean of the McCormack Graduate School at UMass Boston, acknowledges that public sector pay raises are controversial.

" We don't  think this should be ignored. We are going to build up more inequities and we will preclude the kind of talent we need and want in a democracy," said Jackson.

Barbara Anderson, president of Citizens for Limited Taxation, blasted the panel’s proposals.

" My first reaction is you've got to be kidding me. In the middle of a budget deficit half way through the fiscal year when the governor is talking about cutting local aid?"

Pointing to this year’s race for governor, Anderson scoffed at the suggestion that a higher salary was needed to attract talented people.

" There were what ten people who ran in the primaries. These people not only want to run, they leave jobs with higher salaries to run, leave secure jobs to run."

A spokesman for House Speaker Robert DeLeo said the compensation panel’s report is being reviewed.  Likewise, a statement from Senate President Therese Murray offered no clue on where she stands on the recommendations.

 Democratic State Rep. Angelo Puppolo of Springfield concedes it is a not a good time to talk about pay raises when the state is facing a large projected budget deficit requiring mid-fiscal year spending cuts.

" Timing-wise I think it is not the best time to do this."

The lame duck legislature and Gov. Deval Patrick would have to act on the commission’s recommendations before January or the raises could not take effect for years because of the state’s conflict-of-interest law. Governor-elect Charlie Baker said he would veto a pay raise bill.

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.
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