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Beacon Hill pay raises can wait, Charlie Baker says

Massachusetts Governor-elect Charlie Baker says more important fiscal problems need to be dealt with before broaching the subject of pay raises.
Massachusetts Governor-elect Charlie Baker says more important fiscal problems need to be dealt with before broaching the subject of pay raises.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff/File/Boston Globe

Republican governor-elect Charlie Baker cautioned Beacon Hill leaders on Thursday against approving hefty pay raises for the state's top elected officials, saying the Commonwealth faces a host of serious fiscal problems that need to be dealt with first.

"Given all the issues that are now before the Legislature and the governor, I think putting this off would be the right thing to do,'' Baker said.

Baker's comments followed a Globe story outlining how House and Senate leaders were looking to use the lame-duck Legislature to raise their own salaries as well as greatly increase the pay for the governor and other elected constitutional officers.

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An advisory commission, created by the leadership through a little-noticed budget rider last summer, is scheduled to release its recommendations Dec. 1.

Baker said he is not opposed to reviewing salaries for state officials "every few years" but said the timing is wrong for any pay raises while the state is grappling with budget woes and several costly health care issues.

"I think we should be focused on other things,'' Baker said.

While opposed to the Legislature's taking action on any proposed raises, Baker was clearly trying not to alienate the Democratic legislative leadership, with whom he will need to have good relations.

Picking his words carefully in a brief phone interview, he navigated between the realities of State House politics and his desire to make a statement over the optics of a lame-duck Legislature and a lame-duck governor implementing huge pay increases at a time of some fiscal distress.

The panel will very likely call for raising the House speaker and Senate president's $102,000 salaries to as much as $150,000. It will probably propose adding $25,000 or more to the $151,800 paid to the governor and $40,000 or more to the attorney general's current $130,582 salary.

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It is also considering a change in biannual cost-of-living increases for the base salaries of rank-and-file legislators that, if adopted, would give them a raise of just under $4,000 in January and provide larger increases in the future.

If the Legislature puts off acting on the commission's recommendations until the 2015 session that begins the first week in January, Baker, the Senate president and House speaker, and rank-and-file lawmakers cannot accept the raise until after the next state election, in 2016.

The state's conflict-of-interest laws prohibit public officials from financially benefiting from matters in which they have acted on in their public positions. But a newly elected legislative body could, by most legal interpretations, take the raises if the current Legislative session enacted them.

That has created pressure on the lawmakers to consider getting approval from the Legislature and the outgoing governor, Deval Patrick, during the current lame-duck session.

For House Speaker Robert DeLeo, the issue is critical to his getting a better pension. He can serve only two more years as speaker.

The compensation commission has held several hearings across the state and published a Nov. 5 preliminary report but has not caught much public attention. Neither its creation nor its ongoing work was raised in the gubernatorial campaign.

Baker said he was not aware of the commission until he was asked about it the day after the election. He also said he is comfortable with the fact he would not be able to take the pay raise during his four-year term if he were to sign the legislation enacting the commission's recommendations.

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"I know what the job pays, and I have no strong feelings how it relates to me,'' Baker said in an interview two days after the election.


Frank Phillips can be reached at phillips@globe.com.