As a matter of Massachusetts law, only the governor can set the pay for members of the legislature, and it's supposed to be based on state median income data. Gov. Patrick cut legislative pay twice in his tenure, and twice flatlined it; Gov. Baker raised it in January, 2017, to $62,500. The Speaker and Senate President receive separate salaries, and certain legislative leaders receive stipends on top of base pay.
The first bill which the House took up in our 2017-18 session was one giving pay increases to the Senate President and Speaker of the House, as well as to judges, the governor and other constitutional officers. It also raised the stipends to appointed committee chairs and other legislative leaders who receive these extra amounts. In the House, it substantially increased the number of positions eligible for these increases, to 80 out of 160 total members.
I voted against this bill, and to sustain the governor's veto of it. Although I've heard some positive feedback about my vote, I've also had questions about why I voted as I did. I thought I should explain.
I do believe people should be paid fairly for their work. In absolute terms, it was not unfair that the Speaker and Senate president, who have demanding managerial jobs, got raises that put them on par, pay-wise, with school principals, or police captains. But we work in the political realm, and other circumstances matter.
I thought that it was wrong for this bill to be the first action taken by the state legislature in its new session, and with little notice, and no public hearing. The legislative increases were in the more than 40% range, which I thought to be too much at once, since most workers are seeing increases of 2-3%, if they are receiving any at all. At the same time, the big-ticket expenses - housing, health insurance, college tuition - are rising at a faster rate than wages.
Revenue, at the same time, has been falling annually over several years, largely due to automatic reductions in the personal income tax rate. Declining revenues have led to cuts in the budgets for many important programs and services. In this fiscal year, revenue projections have fallen below estimates, prompting Gov. Baker to make mid- fiscal year "9C" cuts to budget appropriations, which have not been restored (Note: on March 15, the House is presently scheduled to vote on a Supplemental Budget, which could restore some of these cuts.)
To me, these considerations mitigated against a big pay increase vote, right out of the box. Nine Democrats in the House voted against the increases, as did all the Republicans. The Republicans in leadership positions in their party, however, have mostly accepted their additional stipends, prompting some derision in the press: https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2017/03/05/house-gop-voted-against-pay-raise-but-won-turn-down/EyMc6gxWD0t0ZFFH5gDDFL/story.html