Raises for legislative aides are modest but come at wrong time

Nobody who works on Beacon Hill is getting rich off the 3 percent raise that Senate President Therese Murray gave to a small number of staffers and Speaker Robert DeLeo gave to all House employees. Still, granting the pay hikes at this time sent the wrong message — not just to taxpayers, but also to human-services workers who make much less and remain subject to a wage freeze.

As the economic crisis deepened in 2008, lawmakers began to take a harder look at compensation and benefits for government workers, on the reasonable grounds that they should share in the sacrifices facing private-sector workers, who were absorbing pay freezes and cuts. Even amid more hopeful economic signs, that same sense of caution needs to prevail. Tax collections in October came in well under expectations, the state’s unemployment rate has ticked upward, and economic growth has slowed. Governor Patrick implicitly acknowledged the risks when he held off on releasing 2 percent salary hikes to employees of state human-services providers (though not when he gave a 3 percent raise to hundreds of non-union managers in July).

Beacon Hill staffers shouldn’t have to take a vow of poverty; the orderly operation of public services depends on being able to attract high-quality workers. Still, decisions about raises for state workers should hinge upon overall economic conditions and a measured assessment of the Commonwealth’s priorities — not on which workers have the ears of Beacon Hill’s top leaders.