Littleton Independent: Commission studies political officials’ salaries

Some district attorneys make $40,000 more than the attorney general.

Other state employees may earn more than their boss, the governor.

In the weeks following the upcoming state election, a special commission plans to release a report and series of recommendations regarding salaries and compensation for elected officials.

“Our intent is to help the public understand where we stand in regard to other states,” said commission chairman Ira Jackson, dean of the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at UMass Boston.

The advisory commission, Jackson said, will study salaries of the governor, other constitutional officers and state legislators, then compare them to compensation in other states’ governments, as well as the private and non-profit sectors.

Jackson said he was personally surprised to see some other public employees earn a higher salary than the governor, who is making $151,800 for 2014. Similarly, some district attorneys make $40,000 more than the attorney general’s $130,582 salary, he said.

“It does seem anomalous,” he said.

The commission will also examine the mechanism the state uses to make adjustments to legislators’ pay. Massachusetts adopted a constitutional amendment in 1998 that raises or lowers state lawmakers’ base salaries according to biannual fluctuations in the median household income.

Any change in the practice would require a new constitutional amendment.

“The commission is a very good idea,” said state Sen. Jamie Eldridge, an Acton Democrat. “It’s important to have a commission with public hearings and to hear from other stakeholders from the private sector to analyze what the pay should be. I’m looking forward to their recommendations.”

With the economy taking a downturn, legislators were forced to take a $1,100 pay cut in 2013.

Barbara Anderson, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation, criticized the special advisory committee and questioned why it was formed.

“It can only be because for the first time they didn’t get their pay increase,” she said. “We had a formula that seems to be working just fine. Now suddenly this formula isn’t such a good idea anymore? This is outrageous.”

Jackson said the commission has “no forgone conclusions and no preconceived notions” about recommendations it may make.

Massachusetts state legislators, with a base salary of $60,033, are the sixth-highest paid in the country. Some states, such as New Hampshire, use a citizen-legislator model, in which lawmakers earn a small stipend and generally work part-time. California, on the other hand, has a full-time legislature and pays its lawmakers more than $90,000.

The base salary doesn’t tell the complete story.

On top of their base salaries, Massachusetts legislators earn thousands more in various stipends. More than four in 10 lawmakers earn stipends for holding leadership positions. The House speaker and Senate president each earn a $35,000 stipend, while the House and Senate chairmen of the Ways and Means Committee earn an additional $22,500. Assistant leaders, division chairs and some ranking members earn $15,000 stipends. Remaining committee chairmen receive a $7,500 stipend.

Additionally, all members can receive a $7,200 stipend for office expenses and per diems ranging from $10 to $100 depending on how far they live from Boston. Many lawmakers elect to forgo their per diems.

Public employees are also eligible for health, vision, dental and life insurance.

In 2014 state Rep. James Arciero, a Westford Democrat who serves Littleton, Westford and Chelmsford, earned $54,303, according to Massachusetts Open Checkbook, an online site that details state spending. Arciero’s previous year’s earnings were $67,279. Eldridge, who serves Littleton, earned $60,361 as compared to $74,779 in 2013. State Sen. Eileen Donoghue, a Lowell Democrat serving Westford, earned the same as Eldridge in both 2013 and 2014.

Any legislator who lives more than 50 miles away from the Statehouse is also eligible to claim a special deduction on his or her federal taxes. They can get a deduction for living expenses for each legislative day. The deduction is based on the federal per diem for Massachusetts, which changes seasonally and ranges from $229 to $308 per day.

Jackson said the commission hopes to issue its report by Thanksgiving, but said it may not be finished until December.

“We have a lot of work to do in relatively short timeframe,” he said.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *