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CLT&G Update
Thursday, November 19, 1998

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 Government.

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 good people.

But this is ridiculous.

Voters ignored warnings -- which, admittedly, were not as clamorous as they should have been.

The lesson?

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.

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