A huge pay raise package for top legislators, the governor, and other constitutional officers has been placed on hold after House leaders found little appetite among the rank-and-file members to act on such a politically volatile proposal at a time of major budget cuts.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo faced resistance when he tested the waters in recent weeks for a strategy to quickly approve the salary increases before the end of the current legislative session on Tuesday night.
Now the pay package will sit in limbo indefinitely, as the lawmakers, who reconvene Wednesday in a new legislative session, face a skeptical incoming Republican governor, Charlie Baker. He has said he opposes any consideration of salary increases while the state grapples with what some fiscal analysts say could be a $750 million budget gap.
The issue has a particularly personal effect on DeLeo, since the proposed raise could substantially boost his pension. But with the vote delayed, the House would have to undo the current eight-year term limit placed on the speaker for him to get the pension benefit from the raise.
A spokesman for DeLeo said Monday the House leader would have no comment about potential term-limit changes. Any move to extend his term as speaker could create unrest among his leadership team, whose members are looking to move up the ladder after his departure.
Quick approval of proposed pay raises by the current Legislature would have allowed lawmakers to avoid potential problems with ethics laws. Some legal experts have said the state’s conflict-of-interest statutes would prevent them from taking raises during the same session in which the lawmakers voted for the increases.
The issue has been simmering since a commission proposed raising the salaries of both the House speaker and Senate president from their current $102,000 total annual compensation to $175,000. The commission also recommended giving huge boosts to the governor — from $151,800 to $185,000 — and other constitutional officers, such as adding nearly $45,000 to the attorney general’s $130,582 salary.
Governor Deval Patrick had signaled a willingness to sign a pay raise bill in his final hours in office if lawmakers dealt with some of his budget cut proposals. Therese Murray, the outgoing Senate president, whose new private sector enterprise will depend in part on good relationships on Beacon Hill, also signaled she would support the pay raises.
But the fate of the commission’s recommendations now will depend on Baker, whose veto power will create yet another hurdle. It offers the incoming governor a significant political cudgel over the heavily Democratic Legislature.
The legislative base pay is $60,032 a year, but with stipends and extra pay for committee chairmen and other leadership posts, many of them fatten their paychecks. Those perks run from $7,500 to $22,500 for Senate and House Ways and Means chairmen.
The pay increases for the House speaker and Senate president would build pressure for increasing the extra pay that committee chairmen and vice chairmen and other leadership positions currently enjoy.
Meanwhile, Patrick, who has until noon Thursday when his term officially ends, may throw a bone to the lawmakers by using a new formula to calculate the cost-of-living raises that the state Constitution mandates. The commission has recommended that governors use a method that, if it had been in effect since 2007, would have put the current base legislative pay at close to $71,000.
The commission’s chairman, Ira Jackson, dean of the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston, said he and his fellow commissioners are disappointed in the delay but understand the political realities.
“Obviously the timing was terrible,’’ Jackson said, pointing to the budget deficit. But he noted that the commission’s plan requires legislators and other officeholders to find the money from their current budgets to finance the raises.
“We were advocating for better management, not just high salaries,” he said “It is never a popular issue or politically palatable.”
Frank Phillips can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.