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Commission backs big pay hikes for governor, top elected officials

The top two Massachusetts legislative leaders would become the highest paid in the country, and the governor would become the second-highest paid nationally, if recommendations released Monday by a state panel become law.

The advisory commission recommended the governor’s salary be boosted from $151,800 to $185,000; the House speaker’s and Senate president’s jump from $102,279 to $175,000; and the attorney general’s increase from $130,582 to $175,000.

The proposals on pay, which were coupled with recommended reforms in the panel’s final report, come as the state faces a budget gap and as polling data has found Massachusetts voters uneasy about their own economic prospects.


In addition to the salary increase, the commission also proposed an additional $65,000-a-year housing allowance for the governor.

If the pay raises were adopted, the Massachusetts governor would trail only the governor of Pennsylvania, who makes $187,818; the House speaker and Senate president salaries would rank first among the 50 states, according to the report.

In a statement, Governor Deval Patrick said he supported the recommendations but said he would not approve salary-boosting legislation until the midyear budget gap, estimated to be $329 million, is bridged. Among other measures, Patrick has proposed cuts in aid to cities and towns, which legislators quickly rejected.

Governor-elect Charlie Baker poured cold water on the idea of salary increases with an unresolved state budget shortfall looming.

“Now is not the time to be talking about pay increases on Beacon Hill,” he said at news conference after the report was released.

If the economic situation remained similar to what it is today and Baker received legislation raising top officials’ pay, he said he “would probably veto it.” He takes office Jan. 8.

The panel pegged the yearly net cost of the proposed changes, including the salary hikes, at about $934,000, a tiny part of the state’s more than $36 billion budget. Members of the panel said they expected the increases could be absorbed within existing budgets, without additional taxpayer expense.


Ira A. Jackson, chairman of the commission, defended the recommended salaries and said they were based on a thorough review of top elected officials’ responsibilities, other states’ levels of compensation, the high cost of living in Massachusetts, how much top executives in the private sector make, and a desire to attract talented people, regardless of means, to elected office.

“We conclude that the governor of Massachusetts is inadequately compensated,” he said, noting the 24/7 nature of the job and, among other factors, that more than 1,200 state employees earn more than the governor.

Still, Jackson, dean of the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston, acknowledged that proposals for boosting public sector compensation are controversial and usually unpopular.

“Our democracy and form of self-government here in the Commonwealth will be strengthened if our reforms and recommendations are enacted,” he said at a news conference, announcing the commission’s final report.

Asked about the proposed gubernatorial housing allowance, Jackson said Massachusetts is one of only a few states that do not have an executive mansion or offer a housing allowance to the governor.

Michael J. Widmer, the outgoing head of the non-partisan Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation and one of the commission members, said in an e-mail the panel wanted to clearly distinguish the allowance from the salary, so did not lump the two items together. He said the group did not discuss any potential tax consequences of the housing allowance.


While the panel proposed pay raises for the top legislative leaders, it did not directly recommend an increase in the base salaries of rank-and-file legislators.

By constitutional amendment, those salaries are adjusted every two years based on changes to median household income for the state, as determined by the governor. But the commission did propose the using data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis for those biennial adjustments.

The panel also recommended boosting pay for other statewide elected constitutional officials, according to its final report:

■  treasurer, from $127,917 to $175,000;

■  secretary of state, from $130,916 to $165,000 ;

■  auditor, from $134,952 to $165,000;

■  lieutenant governor, from $134,932 to $165,000.

Among the reforms the panel proposed were to prohibit constitutional officers, the House speaker, and the Senate president from earning outside income, other than passive income from investments.

It also recommended boosting the office expense allowance for state legislators — more for those farther outside of Boston — while eliminating per diem reimbursements.

Legislators collect per diem payments for commuting to and from the State House from their home districts.

Aides to the Senate president and the speaker of the House did not respond to questions about if or when the Legislature might take up pay-raise legislation.

Timing could matter.

If the lame duck Legislature and Patrick do not act to boost compensation before the new legislative session begins early next month, it might be years before pay raises could go into effect.


The state’s conflict-of-interest law says public employees may not participate, as such, in matters that affect their own financial interest.

That could mean some of the recommendations would need to be passed during the lame duck session in order to take effect in January when new officials are sworn in.

“If our recommendations are to become law, they must be acted upon in this legislative session to be effective for the new governor, and other constitutional officers and the 200 . . . members of the Legislature,” Jackson said.

After passing a budget and other high-profile bills over the summer, the Legislature concluded formal business for the year. Still, it has met and advanced legislation in informal sessions. But in those sessions, a single legislator can derail proceedings.

The Legislature could call a full formal session however, which might allow it to push a pay-raise bill through.

In a statement, Speaker Robert A. DeLeo offered no guidance on where he stood on the panel’s proposals. “The report will now be reviewed,” he said.

State Senator Stanley C. Rosenberg, expected to be elected Senate president next month, called the commission’s conclusions “bold recommendations.”

Fiscal watchdogs decried the proposals.

“I have a problem with any pay hike when we’re in the midst of a fiscal crisis and they’re cutting local aid,” said Barbara Anderson, president of Citizens for Limited Taxation, a Massachusetts-based antitax group.

Paul Craney, executive director of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, said, “Now is not the time to enrich elected officials and people who would benefit from this plan.”


Joshua Miller can be reached at joshua.miller@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jm_bos.