The Lawrence Eagle-Tribune
Wednesday, November 18, 1998
The Bitter Lesson of Question 1
Pay raises are now on automatic pilot
for Massachusetts lawmakers.
When the public is not vigilant,
the Legislature takes advantage.
Oh, no. What have we done?
Horrified Massachusetts taxpayers may be
asking themselves that about now, as the significance of a vote they took earlier this
month begins to sink in.
On Nov. 3, Massachusetts voters
overwhelmingly passed ballot question No. 1, which ties annual raises for lawmakers to the
growth in the median family income in Massachusetts.
Because of the deceptive wording of the
question, many voters thought they were limiting lawmakers' salaries.
"I heard people say, 'Boy we really
tucked it to the Legislature,'" said Barbara Anderson,
executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation and
In truth, the Legislature did the
tucking -- as usual.
Thanks to the ballot question, voters
have enshrined in the state's constitution a perpetual, automatic annual raise for
lawmakers that will soon make Massachusetts legislators the highest paid in the nation.
As Eagle-Tribune writer John Macone
reported, they are on target to receive $100,000 within 20 years. Pensions will grow along
with salaries. Every year the job will be more lucrative, making members more reluctant
than ever to move on to something else. Lawmakers will never have to cast another
uncomfortable vote to reap these rewards.
"And there's nothing we can do
about it," said Mrs. Anderson.
This goldmine is constitutionally
protected. If voters petitioned to have the amendment overturned, lawmakers could simply
bury that measure -- just as they did term limits.
Our lawmakers should be paid well. Many
work hard. They do an important job.
We should make a point of attracting
But this is ridiculous.
Voters ignored warnings -- which,
admittedly, were not as clamorous as they should have been.
The Massachusetts Legislature needs to
be watched like a hawk. In a one-party state, where the few Republicans in power play ball
with the Democratic leaders, conditions are perfect for abuse of the public.
The price of citizenship in a free
society is never cheap. It means paying attention, listening to warnings, demanding
answers, alerting neighbors. It means reading the newspaper.
When we become apathetic or distracted
by the pressures of daily life, it is all too easy for politicians to take advantage.