When he is back home in the heart of the Tea Party-friendly Blackstone Valley, Ryan Fattman gains political traction by sneering at the pension perks and travel allowances that Massachusetts lawmakers enjoy. That anti-Beacon Hill stance has helped him win elections — a House race in 2010 and a Senate race last year.
But now that he has settled into his new role as state senator, the 30-year-old Webster lawmaker has grabbed one of the best legislative perks offered on Beacon Hill: a $15,000-a-year stipend to essentially do nothing.
That extra pay, added onto his $60,032 base legislative salary, comes with his appointment as “assistant minority whip,” a job usually given to those who are assigned to enforce party discipline on the rank and file. But there is no Republican rank and file in the Senate — thus, there are no back-benchers to whip into line.
In fact, every senator in that small six-member Republican caucus holds a leadership title — and thus gets the added $15,000 that comes with the title. Fattman is assistant to minority whip Donald F. Humason of Westfield, who gets the same leadership stipend.
Pay raises, pensions, and perks have been objects of obsession on Beacon Hill for decades, and Democrats, too, have for years enjoyed their share of the spoils. Lucrative leadership posts or committee chairmanships and vice chairmanships are eagerly sought by members and used by leaders to instill discipline.
The extra pay started nearly three decades ago with arguments that lawmakers’ jobs had become more demanding and policy issues more complicated.
But such benefits are also perfect fodder for candidates like Fattman to use against opponents. He defeated an incumbent Democratic House member in his first legislative race in part by making an issue of her taking of “per diem” payments — allowances claimed by some legislators for driving to and from the State House. And he proudly vowed not to take a state pension.
“Beacon Hill needs to go on a diet,’’ he said, vowing to find the “pork in the budget.”
The $15,000 stipend is particularly striking when considering other legislators who have far more responsibilities and hugely greater workloads often get far less of a bonus.
Sonia Chang-Diaz, who won her Senate seat in 2008, is now cochair of the Joint Committee on Education, a major panel that grapples with some of the state’s most sweeping educational issues. The Boston Democrat collects a $7,500 stipend — half the $15,000 leadership bonus — for cochairing the panel with her House counterpart. She also serves as vice chairwoman of the joint committee on bonding, but the post carries no stipend.
Senator William Brownsberger, the Belmont Democrat, is cochairman of the Joint Judiciary Committee, another active and key legislative committee that is a critical part of the state’s criminal justice system. He too gets $7,500 extra in his pay. His position as vice chairman of the Senate ethics committee has no stipend.
Neither Fattman nor Senate Republican minority leader Bruce Tarr, who appointed him to the position, responded to repeated requests during the past week for interviews.
The GOP’s assistant minority leader, Robert Hedlund, defended Fattman, saying stipends are given to everyone in the Senate, with Democrats scooping up most of them. He did note the irony of Fattman’s duties as a legislative whip in a caucus of only leaders.
“He can whip himself,’’ quipped Hedlund.
But he noted that the Senate Democrats have long manipulated the extra-pay system to ensure everyone in their caucus got fatter paychecks. He said Democrats, as their numbers swelled in recent years, created more committees to ensure there were enough extra-paying chairs to give out for their members.
“This dynamic has been in place long before Ryan Fattman showed up,’’ said Hedlund, who gets an extra $15,000 for his title.
Legislative stipends have evolved during the past three decades as legislating became increasingly more complicated and time consuming. And the Republicans, who often rail against Beacon Hill excesses, are major beneficiaries.
Tarr, the minority leader, gets $22,500 added to his base pay. Under him are the other five GOP members who make up the caucus, each of whom gets a $15,000 stipend. That includes two assistant minority leaders, a minority whip, and an assistant whip, the position Fattman has been given. There is also a “ranking member” of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
The GOP in the House operates with just five leaders — one less than its Senate counterpart — but its 35-member caucus is nearly six times the size. House minority leader Brad Jones, who collects a $22,500 stipend, relies on four floor leaders to help lead the 30 other Republicans. Five other House Republicans collect extra pay: One gets an extra $15,000 for serving as the ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee; four others get paid for serving as ranking members on other committees.
To be sure, Democrats take care of their own. Every one of them gets extra pay. Most Senate committee chairs make an extra $15,000. There are 36 extra paying committee chairmanships. Fifteen of the committee chair positions pay $7,500. Among the Democrats who hold those lesser paying chairs, eight collect another $7,500 stipend for serving as a vice chair of another committee.
One of the most dubious extra pay schemes was former House leader Thomas Finneran’s creation in 1997 of the four House “division leaders” (“hall monitors” as they are called by critics) who get an extra $15,000, supposedly to count votes. But, with the recent string of strong-armed speakers, vote counting is done out of the speaker’s office. The positions, like those created by other speakers, add to the leadership’s power to reward — and retain the loyalty of — supporters.
Fifteen years ago, Democratic leaders came up with a new one. First the Senate and then the House created a vaguely defined sinecure: Senate president pro tempore and House speaker pro tempore. The position, which ranks second in the leadership ladder in both bodies, is generally used to take care of some loyal allies or elder statesmen when there is no other room high up in the leadership ranks. It carries a $15,000 stipend.
Frank Phillips can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.