fb-pixel Skip to main content
OPINION

A new Legislature convenes and three pay hikes kick in. Only in Massachusetts

Bay State taxpayers underwrite raises for politicians that they can only dream about for themselves.

Massachusetts State House. The salaries of Bay State legislators are going up by thousands of dollars as a new session of the Legislature commences.
Massachusetts State House. The salaries of Bay State legislators are going up by thousands of dollars as a new session of the Legislature commences.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

If you are a Massachusetts resident who works a minimum-wage job, your pay goes up this week to $13.50 per hour, an increase of 75 cents.

If you are one of the state’s 1.2 million Social Security recipients, your benefits check will be boosted by 1.3 percent this month. For the average retiree, that will mean a monthly hike of about $20.

If you are a private sector worker in Greater Boston who gets an annual cost-of-living adjustment based on the Consumer Price Index, your wages may inch up by a slight 0.4 percent — the change in prices locally over the past year, as determined by the US Labor Department.

Advertisement



And if you are among the 6.7 percent of the state workforce that is currently unemployed — you won’t get any paycheck at all, though you may be eligible for temporary unemployment benefits.

But if you are a member of the Massachusetts Legislature, you won’t have to settle for such trifling (or nonexistent) gains in pay. The salaries of Bay State legislators are going up by thousands of dollars as a new session of the Legislature commences and not one, not two, but three separate pay raises kick in.

Again.

Pay Raise No. 1 will enrich each senator and representative by an additional $4,280 per year, raising their base salary by 6.46 percent from the current $66,257. Under an amendment to the Massachusetts Constitution, legislative salaries are adjusted every two years to match the change in household median income, as determined by the governor. The Legislature placed that amendment on the ballot in 1998 and successfully pitched it to voters as a guarantee that lawmakers would never again vote to hoist their own salaries.

But in Massachusetts, lawmakers don’t collect only a salary. They also collect a generous “expense allowance” — currently, $16,250 per year for those whose districts are within 50 miles of the State House and $21,660 for all the others. On top of that, every state senator and almost two-thirds of state representatives collect hefty “leadership stipends,” which augment their compensation by at least 20 percent. For most taxpayers, getting that kind of money for a job as undemanding as state legislator is sheer fantasy. But when it comes to their own pockets, Massachusetts lawmakers make fantasies come true.

Advertisement



In 2017, the Legislature passed a law automatically hiking their expense allowances and leadership stipends in tandem with state wages every two years — effectively guaranteeing themselves a second and third pay raise at the start of each new session. Even for Beacon Hill, it was a brazen ploy. There was a public outcry, and Governor Charlie Baker vetoed the measure. But the Legislature steamrolled his veto, with the result that each two-year legislative session now begins with multiple pay raises for House and Senate members. In the 2021-22 session, Massachusetts lawmakers will be paid a base salary of $70,537, plus an expense allowance of $22,729 ($17,044 for those within 50 miles of Boston). In addition, 70 percent of legislators will receive yearly “leadership” pay ranging from $17,039 to $90,876. No member will make less than $87,581; some will collect as much as $178,457.

Virtually no other state pays its lawmakers so much money. (California, New York, and Pennsylvania are the exceptions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.) If Beacon Hill were a model of legislative excellence, such exorbitant compensation might be justifiable, but the opposite is true. Most Massachusetts legislators have no influence, and the handful who do conduct nearly all their business in secret — indeed, our Legislature is one of the least transparent in America. Year in, year out, the Legislature blows off its deadline to pass a state budget. Rarely is any legislative issue seriously debated in the open. Bills approved in advance are typically gaveled to passage in pro forma votes whose outcome is a forgone conclusion.

Advertisement



In most of America, state lawmakers convene for just a few weeks or months each year — long enough to hammer out a budget, approve needed legislation, and adjourn. They know better than to think of legislating as a full-time job requiring bountiful salaries.

But not in Massachusetts. Here, growing their own pay is one of the things legislators do really well, and taxpayers keep underwriting raises that they can only dream about for themselves.

Jeff Jacoby can be reached at jeff.jacoby@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeff_jacoby. To subscribe to Arguable, his weekly newsletter, visit bitly.com/Arguable.