A Ballot Committee of Citizens for Limited Taxation


Boston Herald
Thursday, November 11, 1999

Raise our pay by cutting tax
By Barbara Anderson

Well, voters, we can fight the latest legislative pay hike, or we can concentrate on rolling back the "temporary" state income tax hike. I choose option two. Since every tax cut is a pay raise, let's get one for ourselves!

We taxpayer activists have often opposed legislative pay raises as a secondary issue. Our opposition was based on the commonwealth's high tax burden and the refusal of the Legislature to do anything about it until forced by an initiative petition. Why, we figured, should they get a raise when all they did was torment their employers?

We were also dragged into the issue by public outrage generated by the way legislators passed these pay hikes. They would do it right after they were safely re-elected, or in the middle of the night, without a roll call. It was always a huge percentage increase, effective immediately or retroactive to the beginning of the year. Either they would not have a public hearing, or they would have several around the state at which they'd be told by almost everyone who testified that it was too much; then they did what they wanted anyhow.

To add insult to injury, the Legislature would often attach its raise to either a judicial pay bill or to the state budget. The state Constitution does not allow those pieces of legislation to be the  subject of a repeal referendum.

The voters signed a petition in 1995 that would have cut legislative pay to encourage a part-time citizen legislature like New Hampshire's, but the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled it off the ballot. It would be nice to have at least the power that New York state taxpayers have to withhold legislators paychecks if the state budget is late.

Instead, Massachusetts has a new constitutional amendment -- placed on the 1998 ballot by the Legislature -- setting the present legislative pay in constitutional cement and giving legislators an automatic pay raise every two years if median household income increases. For some unfathomable reason, the voters passed this amendment. Now legislative leaders are using it as an excuse to find "other means of compensation."

Complaining that their pay is too low, they attached a "study" to a non-controversial constitutional officer pay raise that would find a way to give them extra money to advance their chances of re-election. Until the voter-passed "clean elections law," legislators had a big advantage over challengers because they could spend campaign money for local "charitable" contributions, funeral flowers, and political travel. They will expect the "study" to recommend they get additional taxpayers dollars for these career-enhancing expenses.

When I was first asked last month what I thought of a proposal to raise the pay of the constitutional officers, I declined to object. Even in the past, when the constitutional officers' pay was affected by legislative raises, the public outrage was aimed at the legislative, not the executive branch.

Of course, the proper way to raise pay for an elected position is to have it take effect after the next election. But I have no quarrel with the state constitutional officers, who, unlike the Legislature, actually seem to show up for work on a regular basis.

Well, trust the Legislature to make even the least controversial proposal outrageous. Even though the state budget was four months late, the pay bill is being fast-tracked. The amount will be more than originally proposed. And now it includes some goodies for legislators as well.

Whatever. Our politicians shouldn't bother attaching it to judicial pay or the state budget. No one is going to stop working on an income tax rollback petition -- a pay hike for us! -- to try to repeal this politician pay package. We have our priorities and they have theirs.

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