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Mass. lawmakers getting 4 percent raise

Governor Charlie Baker is raising the base pay of Massachusetts legislators by 4.19 percent. Steven Senne/Associated Press

After eight years without a raise, some Massachusetts elected officials will find a little something extra in their paychecks come January, thanks to a 1998 constitutional amendment and Governor Charlie Baker.

In a Thursday letter to Treasurer Deborah B. Goldberg, Baker ordered a 4.19 percent raise in base pay for legislators, from $60,032 to $62,547 — the first increase since 2009 under an amendment that ties legislators’ salaries to changes in the state’s median household income.

But though the raise also applies to the state’s constitutional officers, Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito would not accept the additional pay, a spokeswoman said.

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Lawmakers’ salaries are reviewed every two years, per the amendment, which leaves the decision on how to measure the change in household income to the governor.

In his letter to Treasurer Deborah B. Goldberg, Baker said he used median household income data from the US Census Bureau to determine the change.

State law ties the salaries of the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, and auditor to the constitutional provision for lawmakers. Spokespeople for the remaining constitutional officers either could not be reached or indicated that they were still considering whether to accept the extra money.

The raise also applies only to the base pay portion of each lawmaker’s salary, and not stipends for leadership posts that add tens of thousands of dollars to some high-ranking legislators’ pay or per diem pay for travel.

At $2,515 a year for each of Massachusetts’ 200 lawmakers, and between $5,000 and $6,000 for six statewide elected officials, the total cost to taxpayers would be just over $535,000 if every official accepted the pay hike — a tiny fraction of the state’s roughly $39 billion budget.

Legislative leaders on Thursday presented the raises — and Baker’s action — as constitutional requirements rather than magnanimity.

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“He acted in a fair and timely fashion,” Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg said in a statement e-mailed to the Globe that thanked Baker “for fulfilling his constitutional duty.”

Speaker Robert A. DeLeo described the constitutional amendment that led to the raises and said he was “grateful the governor performed his constitutional duty.”

Representative Paul Heroux, a Democrat from Attleboro, said the raise was welcome.

“I personally live paycheck to paycheck, and I’ve got bills and mortgages and student loans like any other person. So of course I welcome it,” Heroux said.

Like many legislators, he works a second job to earn extra income. He noted that the raise amounts to about $50 a week — “It’s little bit of extra grocery money,” he said — and still leaves lawmakers well below the median household income of over $70,000 to which their salaries are tied.

“It’s nothing I was asking for,” Heroux said. “I would continue to do the job I was doing with or without this. But it is nice because the cost of living is going up.”

Salaries for legislators and other top officials in Massachusetts have been controversial in recent years. In December 2014, just before Baker took office, an advisory commission recommended big bumps for the governor, attorney general, and top lawmakers. But facing a major budget shortfall, Baker announced that he would likely have vetoed such a measure, and the issue has not reemerged.

Before Governor Deval Patrick left office at the beginning of 2015, he left legislators’ base salaries unchanged, leaving many lawmakers quietly fuming. In a letter sent the day before Baker’s inauguration, Patrick wrote that he had hoped to be able to increase salaries, but the methodology he’d used in prior years to determine the change in median household income provided for no raise. In 2013 and 2011, Patrick cut senators’ and representatives’ base pay.

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Lawmakers last got a raise eight years ago, when Patrick ordered a 5.6 percent increase. Some lawmakers at the time — including Karyn Polito, now Baker’s lieutenant governor — declined the raises, citing ongoing state budget problems where they said the money might be more useful.

The raises announced Thursday also come as the state grapples with another budget shortfall. Earlier this month, Baker said he planned to slash nearly $100 million from the budget, cutting from programs including health care for the poor, suicide preventions, and the State Police crime laboratory.

But unlike the increases proposed by the advisory commission in 2014, those announced Thursday are enshrined in the state Constitution and the law.

Citizens for Limited Taxation, a tax watchdog group based in Marblehead, opposed that amendment when it was put before voters in 1998, said Chip Faulkner, the group’s communications director.

The constitutional amendment, he said, allows legislators to see their pay boosted without forcing them to cast politically challenging votes in favor of their own compensation.

“It’s a terrible system,” Faulkner said. “If you want a pay raise, at least have the decency and the honesty to take a roll call vote.”

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Nestor Ramos can be reached at nestor.ramos@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @NestorARamos. Joshua Miller can be reached atjoshua.miller@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jm_bos. Click here to subscribe to his weekday e-mail update on politics.