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
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 --
hike for us! -- to try to repeal this politician pay package. We have our priorities and
they have theirs.