BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts lawmakers this week approved nearly $18 million in annual pay raises for top legislators, statewide elected officials and judges. Republican Gov. Charlie Baker vetoed the bill on Friday, calling it “fiscally irresponsible.” The Senate voted 31-9 in favor of the legislation Thursday, a day after the House approved it by a 115-44 vote. That’s a large-enough margin in both chambers, controlled by Democrats, to override Baker’s veto.
Some questions and answers about the pay raise plan:
WHO GETS RAISES?
Statewide elected officials including the governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general, judges and clerks, and many members of the state Legislature will get bigger paychecks if the measure becomes law. Republican Gov. Charlie Baker’s annual salary, for example, would climb from $151,800 to $185,000; Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants would go from $181,000 to $206,000; Democratic House Speaker Robert DeLeo from $97,547 to $142,547.
WHO DOESN’T GET RAISES?
Rank-and-file lawmakers who do not hold leadership positions within their parties or committee chairmanships would not get raises beyond their current $62,547 base pay, though some might be in line for more compensation for expenses. The bill also would not affect mayors or other municipal officials and members of the state’s congressional delegation, whose salaries are dictated by federal law.
AREN’T LEGISLATIVE SALARIES DICTATED BY THE STATE CONSTITUTION?
A 1998 constitutional amendment ties biennial changes in base pay for legislators to changes in the state’s median household income, and lawmakers just received a 4.1 percent hike in their base pay. But here’s where it gets complicated. Lawmakers have discretion over additional compensation, like bonuses, for party leaders and committee chairs. And that’s where the bill makes dramatic changes. For example, the added compensation for the Senate president and House speaker goes from $35,000 to $80,000. For the chairs of the House and Senate Ways and Means Committees, the annual bonuses jump from $25,000 to $60,000.
WHAT ABOUT EXPENSES?
Legislators currently receive $7,200 for annual expenses related to their jobs along with a per diem travel allowance tied to how far their district is from the Statehouse. The bill would simplify the system by handing legislators a single lump sum payment for all expenses: $15,000 for those who live within 50 miles of the capitol, $20,000 for those who live beyond 50 miles.
WHAT’S UP WITH THE GOVERNOR’S HOUSING ALLOWANCE?
The bill proposes a $60,000 housing allowance for the governor on top of the salary increase — something that has never in recent times been offered or even requested. Massachusetts, after all, is among the U.S. states with no official governor’s residence, and no plans to establish one. Baker, like other governors before him, commutes to work from his Swampscott home.
HOW DOES MASSACHUSETTS COMPARE TO OTHER STATES?
According to the Council of State Governments, the average salary for all U.S. governors in 2016 was $137,415 (not including housing, travel and staff allowances). Ten governors earned higher salaries than in Massachusetts. Base pay for Beacon Hill legislators was the seventh highest in the nation in 2016, according to a survey by the National Conference of State Legislatures. Supporters of pay hikes note Massachusetts is a high cost-of-living state and salaries for top executives in the private sector often dwarf elected officials’ pay. They also note the state’s legislative session is one of the longest in the country, making it essentially a full-time job for representatives and senators.
WHY IS ALL THIS HAPPENING NOW?
Legislative leaders said it was important to pass the bill at the beginning of the 2017-2018 session to provide clarity on salaries before leadership and committee assignments were officially made. But some have also suggested that lawmakers wanted to put as much distance as possible between this vote and the next state election in 2018, while others noted the votes were taken at a time the public’s attention was diverted by the start of Donald Trump’s presidency and the New England Patriots return to the Super Bowl.