fb-pixel Skip to main content

Mayor Wu vetoes City Council’s pay increases for elected officials

Mayor Michelle Wu spoke at the Massachusetts State House in September.Carlin Stiehl for The Boston Globe

In her most prominent veto yet, Mayor Michelle Wu is rejecting a package of raises for elected and appointed city officials, telling the Boston City Council that the pay bumps they proposed for the mayor and councilors are too high.

In a letter to the City Council dated Monday, Wu said the beefed-up raises approved by the council went too far, given the more modest wage increases the city’s lower-level workers are getting through new union contracts. The council approved raises for mayor and councilors of over 20 percent, whereas Wu’s initial proposal envisioned 11 percent increases.

“Like all workers, our elected officials should receive salary increases, but they should square with the increases that our front-line workers have received and are receiving,” Wu wrote. She noted that the city workers — like many Boston residents — are struggling under surging inflation and public transportation disruptions, a hint that Wu does not believe it is politically wise to lavish high salary increases on elected officials at a time when so many others are feeling financial strain.

Wu’s veto sends the proposal back to the council, which could either pass the more modest raises the mayor favors or override her veto with a two-thirds vote, or nine of 13 councilors. And it tees up a political struggle between the council and the mayor, who have so far enjoyed a mostly cordial relationship. The council — which supported the 20 percent raises unanimously — now has the choice of retreating from its position and falling in line with the mayor, or doubling down and passing the larger raises over her objections.


Councilors, who next meet on Wednesday, are so far staying quiet about how they will respond to the veto. Council president Ed Flynn declined to comment on the issue. City Councilor Ruthzee Louijeune, who introduced the council’s raise proposal, did not respond to requests for comment. Several others deferred to Louijeune or declined comment.


It was Wu who initially proposed pay increases for top city workers, when over the summer she floated raising the mayoral salary from $207,000 to $230,000 and the councilor salary from $103,500 to $115,000. Those proposed 11 percent increases were the result of a review by a city board that is required to recommend salary changes every two years for certain senior municipal officials whose pay is not governed by union contracts.

But city councilors ramped up Wu’s figures even higher, saying that would bring salaries more in line with those of elected officials in comparable cities. They all voted to raise the mayor’s salary to $250,000 and a councilor‘s salary to $125,000.

Boston’s mayor has traditionally been paid twice as much as city councilors, but there does not appear to be a legal requirement.

In internal discussions, some councilors had pushed for even bigger raises, including a council salary as high as $150,000, councilors said.

Any raises for the mayor and the council would go into effect after the next election cycle for each of those elected posts: 2026 for the mayor and 2024 for councilors.

Councilors also approved raises for other top city officials, including the police and fire commissioners and the head of the legal department. That includes a hefty $290,000 salary for new Fire Commissioner Paul F. Burke and $300,000 for new Police Commissioner Michael Cox. The council passed raises for nonelected officials at the same level pitched by the mayor.


Wu’s veto puts those raises on hold for now, too, but the increases are expected to go into effect in the next couple of months. Raises for nonelected officials would be retroactive to Aug. 1.

Wu on Monday also sent her original proposal for raises back to the council. If the body takes no action, the mayor’s version will go into effect in 60 days.

Wu’s veto could mark the start of a more contentious chapter in her relationship with the legislative body. Wu has powerful allies on the council, and has seen many of her priorities sail through with little challenge. During the budget debate earlier this year, Wu and the council briefly tussled over funding levels for the Police Department. But the spending plan that the council ultimately passed hewed close to what Wu had initially proposed.

The Boston Municipal Research Bureau, a fiscal watchdog, had also called the councilors’ proposed increases too high and urged Wu to veto them, arguing that they “would set an unsustainable financial expectation for union salary increases” as the city renegotiates its labor contracts.

The median household income in Boston is $76,298, according to census figures. Some city workers, including full-time paraprofessionals, custodians, cafeteria managers, and grave diggers, are paid less than $40,000, according to January 2022 data provided by the city.

Those salaries can be tough to square with residency requirements, which mandate that most workers live within Boston city limits for 10 years. That often leaves the most junior, and lowest-paid, city employees struggling to afford housing in a place where rents and home prices are skyrocketing. Boston was ranked the fourth-most-expensive city for renters in the United States, with a median monthly rent of $2,600 on a newly listed one-bedroom apartment, according to a July report by rental company Zumper.


If the council’s larger raises go into effect, Boston’s chief executive would make more than the mayors of Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., who earned about $230,000 and $220,000 last year, respectively. In cities with similar populations to Boston but with lower living costs, mayoral salaries in the past few years have been equivalent to or slightly lower than Boston’s. Baltimore’s mayor will make about $199,000 this year, while the mayor of Columbus, Ohio, made $205,000 last year and Detroit’s earned $189,000. In pricey Seattle, the mayor made about $200,000 in 2019, according to local media reports.

Danny McDonald of the Globe staff and correspondent Alexander Thompson contributed to this report.

Emma Platoff can be reached at emma.platoff@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emmaplatoff.