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Adrian Walker

Do city councilors really deserve a raise?

Apparently, we should throw a pity party for Boston city councilors.

They sit in their chamber, month after month, approving raises for unions, taking care of all city employees except themselves. It would gall anyone, really. And it seems they are getting ready to do something about it.

Council President Bill Linehan is filing legislation to raise councilors’ salaries from the already inflated figure of $87,500 a year. Though Linehan has not revealed the amount of the raise, those familiar with his thinking say he’s talking something that would put salaries around $110,000 a year.

That would make ours one of the highest-paid city councils in the country.


How crazy is that? Consider that city councilors already make way more than state legislators’ base salary of $61,133. If the raise passes, they would pull down nearly double what their Beacon Hill counterparts collect. Trust me, they don’t do twice the work.

To be fair, some councilors work very hard. But, historically, knocking yourself out has been considered optional.

What does a city councilor do, exactly? They pass the city budget, though, unlike legislators, they have no role in writing it. They attend meetings, many at night. They handle constituent services (or, rather, their staffs do). That consists of passing resident complaints to appropriate city departments.

Also, they hold hearings, at which they bloviate about whatever they think will get attention and beat their chests about their own importance. They have subpoena power. No one knows why, since they don’t investigate anything. A few months ago, Councilor Stephen Murphy used it to drag in the police commissioner to discuss the long-defunct Mounted Police Unit, which Murphy has vowed to resurrect.

I ask you, is that the kind of inspiring advocacy that merits a big, fat raise?

As you might suspect, the idea of voting themselves pay hikes has always been problematic. The council hasn’t voted a raise since 2006, and the one before that was in 2002.


The political hassle of raising their own salaries has given rise to a certain boldness. Some reason that since you will get the same amount of grief regardless of the size of the raise — and because you can only do it occasionally without being run out of office — you might as well think big. Give yourself a salary you can live with for a while. So the raises, when they happen, tend to be eye-popping.

But the thing is, compared to other people who do what they do, they already make plenty of money. There is no real case that city councilors are underpaid by tens of thousands of dollars. It’s an insult to the taxpayers.

Most city councilors I called as this plan leaked out were busy hiding under their desks, Linehan included. Michelle Wu said she hadn’t heard the details and would carefully weigh the proposal. At least she answered her phone.

I called our new mayor, hoping he would declare this plan an outrage. But city councilors are workers, and Marty Walsh, former union boss, doesn’t like the idea of workers going eight years without a raise. He did stress that he does not want a raise for himself to be part of the package.

Walsh was a legislator for years. I asked him if he really believes councilors should make more than state senators.


“I don’t want to inject myself into council business,” he said blandly.

The rest of us should have no such hesitation to speak out. The City Council doesn’t need or deserve a raise.

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at walker@globe.com.