Now Bostonians know what Bill Linehan meant when he told fellow City Council members, “I will not let you down,” after they voted to elect him president of the body in January. He recently proposed a hefty pay raise that would increase all councilors’ salaries by $25,000, from $87,500 to $112,500. The council’s government operations committee is slated to discuss this proposed hike next week. The plan should be rejected.
To make his case, Linehan argues that the council last voted itself a raise in 2006 — as if time alone justifies his effort to grab a 29 percent raise for himself and colleagues. It doesn’t.
City councilors already out-earn state lawmakers, who receive a base salary of $61,133 — and there’s no obvious reason why councilors deserve to earn even more. The basic job description has not changed. Councilors pass the city budget, hold hearings, and run interference for constituents. While it’s true they attend night meetings, no one forced any one of them to run for an office that requires such a work schedule.
Linehan’s proposal is unreasonable by any measure. The council raise would significantly outpace inflation; consumer prices have risen just under 18 percent since 2006. But, from 2006 to 2012, the median household income in Boston grew by less than 11 percent — which means that, when adjusted for inflation, it’s fallen. Especially when many private-sector workers are hurting, elected public officials shouldn’t be helping themselves to higher pay.
That, presumably, is a key reason Mayor Walsh has said he doesn’t want his $175,000 salary increased. Giving the council a raise under these circumstances would throw away the usual yardstick, in which each councilor earns half of what the mayor does.
As it turns out, Linehan’s pay raise proposal also runs directly into the state’s conflict of interest law, which prohibits a municipal employee from participating in any matter in which the employee or a family member has a financial interest.
In 1987, the state Ethics Commission — which is now reviewing Linehan’s proposal — issued an advisory opinion that stated city councilors can vote on a pay raise, but only if it takes effect after the next election. Under that opinion, if current council members insist on voting themselves a raise, no one could collect on it until January 2016.
That may be the way to get around the state conflict of interest law, but there’s no getting around the bottom line of Linehan’s self-serving agenda. His priorities are backwards. He’s taking care of himself and fellow councilors — and letting down Boston taxpayers.