CLT Update
Tuesday, January 3, 2001

Follow-up on legislative pay-raise

What a tangled path we wend,
When the Constitution we amend.

The pay-raise for legislators is official, at least for now. It exceeded the 7 percent predicted in yesterday's Boston Globe report and settled on an 8 percent increase. This was based on the official increase in the median household income as was reported by the U.S. Census Bureau for 1999 ... and an unofficial increase estimate for last year.

This 8 percent increase is supposed to be adjusted either upward or downward retroactively in September, when the U.S. Census Bureau releases its official figures for 2000.

Prediction:  If the official change in median household income is reported as lower than the estimate, and legislators must return the difference retroactively, watch for an off-setting increase in the amount of their "per diem" or "office expenses," probably retroactive as well.

Mark September on your new calendar: We already have!

Chip Ford

Associated Press
Wednesday, January 3, 2001

Lawmakers receive 8 percent pay raise
By John Mcelhenny

BOSTON (AP) Lawmakers received an 8 percent pay raise on Wednesday, the first day of the 2001-2002 session.

The raise was approved by the Legislature and by voters in 1998, in a change to the state constitution that ties lawmakers' salaries to state residents' income.

The base pay for a state lawmaker is now $50,123, up from $46,410, although they earn more for appointed leadership positions.

Lawmakers defended the pay raise and the innovative method of calculating it, but critics said linking the pay adjustments to the economy unfairly takes the power of determining lawmakers' salaries away from voters.

"We can never ever cut their pay no matter how badly they act," said Barbara Anderson, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. "It cuts off one more option to control our representatives."

Repealing the provision would require legislative approval, since any constitutional change must be approved by two successive legislative sessions and by voter referendum.

The lawmakers' salary provision calls for salaries to change automatically every two years. That means residents no longer have the option of venting their anger by voting out lawmakers who approve pay raises, Anderson said.

But Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham, D-Chelsea, said tying salary adjustments to the economy is more fair than asking lawmakers to vote on it.

"It is inherently unseemly for people to be voting on their own pay raise," he said.

The change prohibits lawmakers from voting themselves pay raises, as they had done in the past. Instead, their base pay increases or decreases every two years at the same rate as the state's median household income.

In 1998, the state's median household income was $42,345, according to U.S. Census figures. The Cellucci administration, which is charged with calculating the lawmakers' salaries, estimates it will rise to $45,739 this year an increase of about 8 percent.

If median household income declines over two years, lawmakers' salaries also will decline.

House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran, D-Boston, said in the past, lawmakers would for years avoid salary debates a perennially controversial issue until they had to enact huge increases just to catch up with inflation.

"There never was a pretty or acceptable way to do it," he said.

In fact, lawmakers were criticized in July for increasing their compensation in another manner. In the annual budget process, lawmakers raised their office expense accounts from $3,600 to $7,200, and doubled their per diem accounts, which vary by lawmaker.

Anderson said the pay adjustment was just another example of lawmakers giving themselves special privileges that their employers the voters are denied.

"Most of us find it humiliating to go to our employers to ask for a pay raise," she said. "It's just one of those things you have to do when you're an employee."

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