Boston city councilors vote for $20,000-a-year raise
Boston city councilors debated for an hour Wednesday about fair pay and the sacrifice of public officials before voting to give themselves a $20,000 raise in January 2016, which would boost their annual salaries to $107,500.
The wage increase must still be approved by Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who would not say Wednesday whether he will sign the measure. Walsh has 15 days to issue a veto, but with a 9-4 vote, the council possessed the two-thirds majority needed to override the mayor.
"You all can count,'' City Council president Bill Linehan told reporters after the vote. "There's nine votes."
Final passage came after councilors delayed the raise until after the next election to comply with state ethics law. The council also lowered the raise by $5,000 because Walsh had threatened to veto a salary increase to $112,500, the amount first proposed by Linehan.
Four councilors objected to the pay increase because they said that it was too large and that councilors should not vote on their own salaries. The majority who favored the raise maintained that councilors' pay had not increased since 2006. They argued that other municipal employees have had several raises, and that the media were crusading against fair pay for councilors.
Councilor Charles C. Yancey said that in today's real estate market, the current salary of $87,500 would not be enough to buy a home in Boston. Councilor Stephen J. Murphy said he is never allowed to "turn this job off" and that he was still "Councilor Murphy" at Sunday Mass, taking constituent service requests on the church steps.
Councilor Tito Jackson and several others spoke about the financial sacrifices they made to run for office, in some cases giving up higher-paying jobs elsewhere in government or in the private sector. Jackson said he left his state job to run for office, went six months without income, and almost lost his home to foreclosure.
"In my mind, public service shouldn't be a subscription to poverty,'' Jackson said. "I think it's absolutely important that people who do this work are justly compensated."
After the vote, Walsh said he thought councilors deserved a raise, but would not say whether $107,500 was appropriate. The mayor pointed to the Compensation Advisory Board, an appointed committee that issued a report last year.
The report did not recommend a salary increase for councilors, but suggested increasing the mayor's salary by 9 percent, to $190,000. Councilors have traditionally been paid half of the mayor's salary, which would be $95,000.
"The Compensation Advisory Board had made a recommendation that I felt was reasonable,'' said Walsh, who has stated he does not want a raise for himself. "I'm going to take a look at [the new ordinance] and make a decision in the next few days."
A salary of $107,500 would be double Boston's median household income of $53,136, according to the most recent US Census data. If Walsh signs the measure, city councilors would also be paid significantly more than members of the state Legislature.
Councilors run for reelection every two years. They are not prohibited from holding other jobs, although almost none currently do, according to financial disclosures on file with the city clerk. An exception is Councilor Michael F. Flaherty Jr., a shareholder at the law firm Adler Pollock & Sheehan. Several other councilors reported income from rental properties.
On Wednesday, Councilors Matt O'Malley and Ayanna Pressley proposed tying councilors' salaries to increases or decreases in the average Bostonian's pay so councilor's would not need to vote on future salary increases. Under the plan, councilors' pay would rise and fall each year at the same rate as the city's median income.
The mechanism, which is used by the state Legislature, would have increased councilors' pay to almost $95,000, they said. It mirrored the 8 percent rise in the city's median income since the councilors' last pay increase, in 2006.
"It's a small raise, but I think it's a fair raise," O'Malley said, adding that the proposal would end the uncomfortable practice of councilors voting on their own pay. "It sets a precedent going forward that we never had to do this again."
Linehan rejected the proposal because he said $95,000 was "extremely low" and not indicative of the work done by councilors. The amendment failed by a vote of 11-2.
O'Malley and Pressley voted against the final measure to increase pay to $107,500. Councilors Josh Zakim and Michelle Wu also voted no because they said they objected to councilors voting on their own pay. Zakim and Wu have pushed to create an independent commission to set salaries.
Councilors who voted for the raise were Linehan, Murphy, Yancey, Jackson, Flaherty, Frank Baker, Salvatore LaMattina, Timothy McCarthy, and Mark Ciommo.
Yancey, who has held his seat since 1984, said he was in favor of the larger raise to $112,500.
"I would have voted for it without any pangs of guilt or conscience because you folks are worth it," Yancey told his colleagues. "Each of you make great sacrifices to serve the people of the city of Boston."
In a fiery speech on the council floor, Murphy argued that councilors did not get a raise during the recession. Since the economy has improved, all other city workers have seen increases.
"Recovery has come for mostly everybody,'' Murphy said, but the council still has not gotten its fair share. He lashed out at the media, saying that "editorialists" were "beating the drum" against a raise for councilors.
"Does that mean the 13 people in this body are the only people that shouldn't get a pay increase since 2006, while everybody else got one?" Murphy asked. "So, it's all on the backs of the 13 of us and that will keep the editorialists — most of whom don't live in the city — happy."