Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Legislators back for more pay raises despite state Constitution

Contact:    Chip Faulkner, Communications Director – 508-915-3665

Here we go again – More Is Never Enough (MINE) and never will be.

Legislative leadership has decreed a hearing before the Joint Committee on Ways and Means abruptly scheduled for tomorrow.  What’s the rush?  Why it’s to review the recommendations of the “Special Advisory Commission Regarding the Compensation of Public Officials”!

What’s the rush?  The commission first released its recommendations in 2008, again in 2014.  No hearings were scheduled.

Until now, January 19th in the opening days of this new legislative session.  A day before the inauguration of a new President of the United States of America when all eyes will be on Washington.

Question 1 on the 1998 statewide ballot was a constitutional amendment proposed by the Legislature, sold to voters as a means to prevent legislators from ever again voting to increase their salaries.  The Official Massachusetts Information for Voters booklet published and distributed to all voters by the Secretary of State contained this official summary:

Question 1: Proposed Amendment to the Constitution

A YES vote would prohibit state legislators from changing their base pay and instead would adjust that pay according to changes in median household income.

SUMMARY: This proposed constitutional amendment would prohibit the state Legislature from changing the base compensation received by members of the Legislature as of January 1, 1996. As of the first Wednesday in January of 2001, and every second year thereafter, the base compensation would be increased or decreased at the same rate as increases or decreases in the median household income for the Commonwealth for the preceding new year period, as ascertained by the Governor....

A "Yes" vote will prohibit legislators from voting themselves across-the-board pay raises.

Sixty percent of voters bought into the promise.

For more history/details click here.

During the last time this idea was floated, on Nov. 20, 2014 The Boston Globe's Frank Phillips reported (State’s political leaders up for pay raises):

"The commission — which has not yet reached final conclusions — must publicly release its recommendations by Dec. 1. But if lawmakers don’t approve the plan before the end of the 2013-14 legislative session, state conflict-of-interest laws could block implementation of the pay hikes for two to four years.

"To avoid such a delay, House and Senate leaders, who have a personal stake in the outcome, could push for a vote on a salary increase plan before Jan. 7.

"Here’s why the timing is critical: State law prohibits public officials from participating in matters in which they have a financial interest in the “reasonably foreseeable” future. But if the raises for House speaker and Senate president are approved before the end of the current session — and before the 2015-16 speaker and president are officially elected by their colleagues — the incoming officials could have access to the increases.

"Likewise, the cost-of-living raises for rank-and-file lawmakers might be delayed unless they’re approved this session.

"The issue is particularly important for House Speaker Robert DeLeo and incoming Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, both of whom could see significant pay hikes. . . .

"The seven-member compensation panel, whose existence and work had gained little notice despite several public hearings, was also charged by the legislative leadership to consider a change in biannual cost of living raises for rank and file legislators that, if adopted, would give them a $4,000 raise — larger than one set by the current system, which has been controversial.

"If the new formula is approved, lawmakers could get a raise to $63,994 this January above their current $60,032 salaries.

"A preliminary report issued the day after the Nov. 4 election makes it clear that the panel is indeed charged with building a case for significant upward adjustments."

Bay State legislators’ base salary, after their recent 4.1 percent pay raise, is now $62,547.  This makes them the sixth-highest paid state legislators in the nation, even without their additional leadership and committee pay, expenses, and per diems.

Now legislative leaders are looking for ways to end-run the constitution to boost their pay even more.

Promises once upon a time were made to be kept, you could judge a man by his word.  The Legislature’s 1989 promise that the income tax hike would be “temporary” opened the door to broken legislative promises.  That unkept promise is now 28-years old, though thanks to CLT’s 2000 ballot question it’s heading in the right direction, despite the Legislature “temporarily freezing” our rollback in 2002.  The income tax rate still hasn’t returned to its historic 5 percent.  Maybe it will before the broken promise reaches its third decade, over a generation broken.  Unfortunately, Barbara Anderson, the champion of our successful rollback campaign sixteen years ago, didn’t live long enough to see it.

Let’s see what happens with the Legislature’s 1998 constitutional promise that “A ‘Yes’ vote will prohibit legislators from voting themselves across-the-board pay raises.”

Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby noted in his column of Dec. 3, 2014 (Mass. lawmakers’ unlawful scheme to hike pay):

“. . . The amendment passed handily. Lawmakers looked forward complacently to receiving automatic biennial raises as a constitutional right, forever. And sure enough, their salaries went up by a few percentage points every two years, in keeping with the amendment’s explicit formula adjusting legislative pay in tandem with median household income.

“Until median household income stopped going up in the wake of the Great Recession.

“In 2011, legislative base pay was trimmed by 0.5 percent. In 2013 it dropped by another 1.8 percent. After a decade of scoring regular raises without having to do anything to justify them — hey, it’s in the constitution! — the Legislature was suddenly confronted with the reality that salaries can go down, too.

“But that’s not a reality every lawmaker is prepared to accept. And — surprise, surprise — their “advisory commission” says they shouldn’t have to. The panel recommends a new method of calculating changes in Massachusetts state income, one that relies on statewide income data “in the aggregate, not the median.” That may sound boringly technical, but the bottom line is crystal-clear: The commission’s recommended method would have raised legislators’ pay in 2011 and 2013.

“But aggregate income isn’t what the constitution specifies. The amendment drafted by the Legislature — and approved by the voters in a landslide — made “median income” the touchstone. It forbids lawmakers from voting for anything else. Beacon Hill, for once, has been hoist with its own petard.

“Assuming, that is, that in Massachusetts, the constitution rules. Does it?”

That is the critical question before members of the Joint Committee on Ways and Means tomorrow, and all legislators in the days ahead.

In Massachusetts, does the constitution rule ― or does it not?

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Citizens for Limited Taxation    PO Box 1147    Marblehead, MA 01945    508-915-3665