For the second time in recent years, state politicians face a pay cut, an automatic reduction triggered by the declining income of households in Massachusetts.
Members of the House and Senate will see a 1.8 percent drop in pay this year, as will the governor and lieutenant governor, treasurer, attorney general, auditor, and secretary of state. The governor’s salary is expected to drop to about $137,315.
The cut will reduce legislators’ base pay by about $1,100 to $60,032, effective Jan. 1, said Treasury spokesman Jon Carlisle. However, many legislators receive additional pay for serving in leadership positions or as committee chairmen. Those stipends, which range from $7,500 to $35,000 for the House speaker, will not be affected, Carlisle said.
The cuts will save more than $234,000, according to Carlisle. But as legislators’ salaries shrink, their aides’ pay is growing. House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo recently granted 3 percent raises to all 460 House employees for a total cost of $764,000, the Globe previously reported. Senate President Therese Murray also gave 3 percent raises to a handful of her direct staff.
The latest pay cuts are the result of a 1998 constitutional amendment that tied legislators’ salaries to median household income. A 2007 law extended the measure to cover statewide office holders, as well, according to the Executive Office of Administration and Finance.
Their pay is now automatically adjusted every two years, based on a calculation by the governor’s administration. A letter Governor Deval Patrick sent to Treasurer Steven Grossman Wednesday said the new reduction was based on the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey and reports of average weekly wages.
“This bears out the purpose and fairness of the constitutional amendment that the voters approved, by tying officials’ pay to what’s happening for other families in Massachusetts,” said Michael J. Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. “This is a reflection of what’s happening in the larger economy.”
When the amendment was proposed, some tax-control activists had opposed it, fearing that regular pay adjustments would only rubber-stamp raises that legislators might otherwise find it politically unpalatable to award themselves. One such opponent, Citizens for Limited Taxation executive director Barbara Anderson, said she was surprised to learn of the pay reductions.
“They’re going to get a cut?” she said Thursday. “Oh, good, so this time it’s working for us.”
Typically, Anderson said, the amendment has resulted in regular raises for legislators. It is, she said, “probably the only constitutionally guaranteed pay raises anywhere in the world. That is not what constitutions are for.”
Starting in 2010, however, the amendment resulted in a pay decrease for lawmakers, as the lasting effects of the recession were factored into the amendment equation. That year, legislative salaries were scaled back 0.5 percent, to $61,133. This year brought a larger reduction as the state grapples with continued sluggishness in the economy.
The automatic trigger does not entirely depoliticize raises, of course. In down times, lawmakers have faced political pressure to decline pay increases or donate them to charity. The constitutional amendment gives the governor some leeway on how to calculate household income.
Governor Mitt Romney’s administration calculated the rate in a way that some government observers viewed as suppressing legislative raises.
“I think that’s to the credit of the Patrick administration that they seem to be playing it straight,” said Anderson, adding, “It’s still a bad idea to have it in the constitution.”
Last month, the governor announced budget cuts to help cover a $540 million shortfall,including further reduction in community funding for teachers and firefighters.
But at the same time, the Patrick administration released $20 million for an approximately 2 percent raise for 29,000 human services workers who had been without a raise for five years.
In July, he gave nonunion managers a 3 percent bump, at a total cost of $10 million.Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @stephanieebbert.