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Senate president defends pay raises: ‘I know it’s not popular’

February 22, 2017

Senate President Stan Rosenberg today told Boston Herald Radio he has received dozens of emails about a pay raise for lawmakers the legislature passed over the governor’s veto earlier this month -- a raise he defended as in keeping with other legislatures.

“I got about 30 emails from my constituents and probably another 40 or 50 beyond that,” said Rosenberg, who late last month said he had gotten no calls from constituents. “So basically we came in the line with California, Pennsylvania New York. Our base salary is $62,500 and it was $60,000 until the Governor gave us a cost of living increase for the first time in nine years, fulfilling his obligation under the constitution to his credit, because the previous governor did not.”

Lawmakers rushed the bill through the State House, voting on back-to-back days without holding a single formal hearing. They overrode a Baker veto with a 116-43 House vote and a 31-9 Senate vote.

Thanks to the votes, Rosenberg and House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s salaries rose by nearly 50 percent to $142,500 a year.

The raises still put Massachusetts’ lawmakers behind those in California, Pennsylvania and New York, Rosenberg said.

“When you compare our base salary, the next of that group of four (states) — and that’s not arbitrarily selected, these are full-time urban legislatures — the next lowest is $85,000. ... And then when you add the leadership pay and the chairmanship pay, still we’re the lowest of the four, coming in at about $101,000 on average in the Senate, and the highest of that group is $113,000 on average. So we just came in line with salaries in other comparable legislatures. Let’s face it, we have the third highest per capita income in Massachusetts, we have one of the strongest economies, and that’s happened as a result of the cooperation and collaboration really for decades between the state government and the business communities. And for the legislators in the state to year after year after year not have a portion of their pay adjusted even for inflation, it’s not reasonable and it’s not sustainable.”

Rosenberg noted Boston city councilors and many Boston police officers are higher paid than state lawmakers.

“And again, I don’t begrudge anybody the salaries they earn, I know people work hard. And so the Boston City Council is at almost $100,000. More than 2,000 police, it was reported in one of the newspapers, more then 2,000 police officers in Boston make $100,000 a year, and cabinet secretaries make $161,000, commissioners make between $103,000 and $150 something or other. So comparable work, comparable pay. We’re focused all of the time trying to help people support themselves in the economy and we have senators and representatives who have to leave office because they simply cannot support their families on $62,000 a year. And that’s the reality.”

Gov. Charlie Baker’s office said it was flooded with roughly 700 phone calls the day the bill hit his desk, prompting governor to call it the “single-largest number of calls we’ve gotten on one day.”

Asked earlier this month whether his office has seen a similar call volume, Rosenberg had offered a quick “no.”

That has changed, he said today.

“I know it’s not popular, and I wish we could deal with it in some other way,” he said. “But going forward, it’s now going to be pegged to inflation, so that that second portion of pay is not going to languish for 30 years as it just did.”

Rosenberg has said lawmakers have the money in their budget to cover their own pay hikes, meaning they only need to find the money to cover the $25,000 raises for judges and clerks included in the new law. And he defended the creation of a new leadership position — the addition of an assistant whip in the Senate.

“The bottom line is we try to give the governor lots of running room in organizing his Cabinet, in organizing the way the executive is going to operate,” he said. “The same ought to be given to us. We are running an organization — it’s the same number of people, it’s the same budget. We didn’t ask for any new money, we worked on all of these changes. Every one of these changes — the increases in the stipends, the increases in the office accounts — is all being paid for out of our existing budget. Now people don’t realize this. It’s basically about a buck a person, per year, of the people of Massachusetts contributing additionally a dollar. But we are not even asking for the dollar, because it’s in our budget and we have reorganized our budget to be able to afford this.”

The bill also gives Baker a $34,000 raise to $185,000, plus a $65,000 housing stipend, though he has said that neither he nor Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, whose salary would grow to $165,000 a year, would take the raises. Attorney General Maura Healey also declined to take her raise.