When state lawmakers rammed a bill into law last year giving themselves and other elected officials hefty pay hikes, Governor Charlie Baker was unequivocal in his disapproval. The raises were “drastic” and fiscally irresponsible, he said, and he vowed to “not accept any additional compensation as a result of this proposal.”
That is, until now.
As Baker readies for his second term, the Republican intends to collect nearly $100,000 in additional annual pay and benefits the controversial pay raise package affords him, pushing his total compensation to $250,000, aides confirmed this week. Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, too, will take the statutorily set $43,000 in extra pay that bumps her annual salary to $165,000, according to the governor’s office.
It’s a far different posture than Baker took in February 2017, when the Legislature overrode his veto of the $18 million package. “Authorizing this drastic salary increase with limited debate defies this obligation and places an undue financial burden on the people of Massachusetts,” he said then.
Baker, who currently makes $151,800 annually, will see his salary rise to $185,000.
Legislative leaders also included a $65,000 housing allowance for the governor in the law, at the recommendation of a 2014 commission they created to suggest new salary levels for them and other top officials. At the time, the commission argued that Massachusetts was one of only six states that supplies neither a governor’s residence nor a housing allowance for its chief executive.
Baker, who with his wife owns a $1.1 million home steps from the Swampscott shoreline, said he’ll accept that, too.
So, what changed?
The state’s fiscal health could play a role. It’s enjoying a far rosier economic stretch than it did in the first half of Baker’s term, enough so that he touted its $1 billion budget surplus routinely on the campaign trail. Accepting a hefty pay bump now is far more politically tenable than weeks after hundreds of state workers took buyouts to cut costs back in December 2016.
And, Baker and his aides note, it’s in statute. (Though the same could be said in 2017.)
“Look, I opposed that then because I hated the process that the Legislature went through to deliver on it, and I didn’t feel that the Commonwealth was in a position to deal with it,” Baker said during his final gubernatorial debate last month.
“But it’s now the statutory requirement here in Massachusetts. That’s what it is. If the voters are kind enough to give me a second term, I’ll just take it. Because that’s what it is.”
It also may not be the only pay hike he sees. In the coming weeks, Baker will make the biennial decision on how to adjust his and lawmakers’ salaries based on the last two years of wage data. That, too, is in statute.