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State Senate President Defends Pay Hike Plan


   Massachusetts lawmakers are planning to vote for a large pay increase for themselves, other top elected state officials and judges.  A top legislative leader, addressing a business group in Springfield this morning, strongly defended the pay raises as long overdue.

   State Senate President Stan Rosenberg of Amherst said the proposed pay hikes of roughly 40 percent are warranted because the salaries for the presiding officers in the legislature, top committee chairmanships and other leadership positions have not been increased in 33 years.

    " I don't know how many people make the same 33 years later," he said.

   Addressing a breakfast gathering hosted by the Springfield Regional Chamber, Rosenberg said he believes he deserves to be paid $142,000, an increase of almost $45,000.

    "The work that you do as a legislative leader this is not a job, this is a life style," said Rosenberg.

    An 18-page bill released Monday night by the Ways and Means Committee would hike the stipends legislative leaders and committee chairpersons receive on top of the base $62,500 legislative pay. The bill bans the Senate President and House Speaker from earning outside income and it changes the way legislators are reimbursed for travel and office expenses.

  The governor’s pay would go from the current $151,800 to $185,000 plus a $65,000 housing allowance under the bill.  The pay for the state treasurer, attorney general, secretary of state and auditor would all increase.

Rosenberg said the justification for the raises is laid out in a report from a special commission that came out in 2014, but was shelved at the time.  A hastily scheduled public hearing was held on the report last week with just two members of the public showing up to testify, both in opposition to the pay hikes.

The Senate President rejected suggestions there is an attempt to rush through the pay raise bill now while the public’s attention is diverted by the transition to a new administration in Washington and the New England Patriots preparing to play in the Super Bowl.

"That is totally cynical," said Rosenberg. " You make these ( pay) adjustments at the beginning of the term before people get their ( leadership and chairmanship) assignments so they are not voting on their own raises."

Gov. Charlie Baker has not said what he will do with the pay raise bill if it reaches his desk.  He has said he will not accept the additional money for himself, just as he turned down a cost-of-living raise this year.

Addressing another topic Rosenberg said he is concerned about how possible changes in federal policy might impact the state budget.  He pointed out that the state is counting on $53 billion from Washington over the next five years to help pay for Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor which in Massachusetts is called MassHealth.

"With the potential rollback of the Affordable Care Act that could dramatically impact what we are doing here  partly because they may remove some of the money and partly because they may change policies," said Rosenberg.

Springfield Chamber president Nancy Creed said business owners are concerned by reports that Gov. Baker may propose to reinstate a $2,000 per-worker penalty against employers who do not offer health insurance benefits.

    "That is a big hindrance to economic growth," she said.  " We hope the governor takes the business community's concerns to heart."

The MassHealth rolls have swelled in recent years to the point where the program now takes up 42 percent of the state budget. 

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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