Our Opinion: For most part, lawmaker pay raises are defensible

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State legislators will receive a pay increase in the year ahead, which is guaranteed to anger residents whose wages have stagnated in recent years. The hikes are defensible for the rank-and-file members, though the process in one aspect leaves a little to be desired. The hikes for the top state officials, are much harder to defend.

Gov. Baker Thursday certified a 5.93 percent pay for members of the House and Senate for the 2019-2020 session, raising the base pay for legislators by $3,709 to $66,256 annually. This increase is mandated by an amendment to the state Constitution that ties lawmakers' salaries to increases in the household median income. The governor said he used the American Community Survey to determine that media household income had risen 5.93 percent to $77,385 from 2015 to 2017 in making his recommendation to state Treasurer Deborah Goldberg.

This system was put in place to prevent or at least discourage lawmakers from awarding huge pay increases to themselves without making a legitimate case for them. The 5.93 percent increases are justified and if lawmakers are paid reasonably well legislative service will be more attractive to candidates and accomplished incumbents will be better able to resist the lure of private sector jobs. This may help reduce the numbers of lawmakers who are essentially advocates for the special interests they may want to work for some day.

The legislators also receive a separate 8.3 percent hike to their office expense accounts, which now range between $15,000 and $20,000, depending on how far away they live from the State House. This will certainly benefit Berkshire legislators, whose distance from Boston put demands on them that their eastern counterparts don't share..

In 2017, legislators, while passing a bill increasing compensation for a number of state officials whose pay raises were overdue, tucked in the increases for stipends as a bonus for themselves. This was a prime reason why Gov. Baker vetoed the 2017 pay hike bill — a veto legislators overrode. This process was not as transparent as it should have been, but there is the same merit to the increase in stipends as there is to the increase in base salaries.

A third increase, which raises pay for top legislative leaders and their deputies, is the most troubling. House Speaker Robert Deleo and new Senate President Karen Spilka, among the highest-paid legislators in the country according to the Boston Globe, will receive an 8.3 percent raise to the various add-ons they receive as legislative leaders. They will each make salaries in the neighborhood of $170,000, and their top deputies and committee chairman will receive similar boosts.

Not only are these salaries substantial already, especially in the case of the House and Senate leaders, they and their deputies are answerable only to voters in their own districts, not the taxpayers across the state who contribute to hikes atop large salaries. Governor Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito have announced that they will not take any additional pay generated by the biennial adjustment to wage levels in the state. We urge the House leaders to do the same, and/or reject their leadership stipends, in acknowledgment that many workers around the state aren't getting pay hikes and may be fighting to keep the salaries they have.

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