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In its first major decision of the new session, the Massachusetts House rammed through a nearly $18 million package of pay raises for the Legislature, judges and the state's six statewide constitutional officers amid signs that Gov. Charlie Baker could be leaning toward vetoing the bill.
While cautioning that he can't be sure of the final details of the bill (H 58), Gov. Charlie Baker suggested shortly after the vote that little has changed since 2014 when he threatened a veto following the publication of a report that became the basis for the pay raise package.
"We said in 2014 we didn't think the pay raise made sense at that point in time and I don't see a lot that's changed with respect to that," Baker said during a press conference on his budget proposal.
The House voted 115-44 to approve the package that would increase pay, in some manner, for all 200 legislators on Beacon Hill as well as for the state's six statewide constitutional officers and judges.
Members of legislative leadership and committee chairs would see substantial pay hikes, while all lawmakers would see their office expense budgets increase. House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg would see their salaries grow by $45,000 to $142,547 a year.
House Ways and Means Chairman Brian Dempsey, who introduced the bill on the floor, defended the pay raises, and the decision not to go as far as the commission recommended, at least with respect to salaries for the speaker and Senate president.
"This bill does not fully embrace the recommendations made by the commission. We felt that it was important to take into consideration the need to make some changes, but do so in a way that is sensitive to the challenges we face," Dempsey said.
House officials estimate the bill will cost $4.1 million this fiscal year, and $17.8 million over the course of a full year beginning in fiscal 2018. Of that annual cost, $2.8 million more will go toward salaries and office expenses for lawmakers, while $12.4 million will go toward pay hikes for judges and court clerks.
All six constitutional officers — governor, lieutenant governor, auditor, attorney general, treasurer and secretary of state — would also get raises under the bill, including an increase for the governor from $151,800 to $185,000 a year with a new $65,000 housing allowance. Baker has said he and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito would not take a raise.
Nine Democrats joined with all 35 Republican members of the House in opposing the bill, including Reps. Denise Provost, Jonathan Hecht, James Dwyer, Colleen Garry, Diana DiZoglio, Thomas Calter, Paul Heroux, Jonathan Zlotnik, and freshman Michael Connolly.
The branches may try to move the bill to Baker's desk on Thursday. The House scheduled a 2 p.m. session on Thursday, possibly to give the pay raise bill a final enactment vote if it comes back from the Senate, which is scheduled to take up the bill at 11 a.m. In the 40-member Senate, everyone has one of the leadership or chairmanship roles that would come with higher stipends under the bill.
The House quickly dispensed with a few amendments to the bill and Rep. Shaunna O'Connell, a Taunton Republican, failed to convince her colleagues to recommit the bill to committee for further public hearings.
O'Connell argued that the process used by Democratic leadership with a "hastily schedule hearing" last week and a quick vote Wednesday made it difficult for the public to voice their opinions.
The hearing was on the 2014 report and lawmakers opted against holding a public hearing on the bill, which emerged for the first time on Monday night.
"I don't think it's very difficult to argue that this bill is being rushed through to avoid public scrutiny and make it go away very quickly," O'Connell said.
Rep. Geoffrey Diehl, of Whitman, questioned whether his colleagues deserved a raise after taking questionable actions in recent years, including indexing the gas tax to inflation and passing a tax on technology services, which were both later reversed.
"If anything, we should adopt New Hampshire's one hundred dollars in pay until we prove we're worth it," Diehl said.
Rep. James Lyons, an Andover Republican, offered several amendments, including one to delay the implementation of the raises until after the next election and another to limit the increase in stipends for legislative leaders to just 4 percent.
Both were defeated.
"To suggest to the taxpayers that it is fair to give out 40 and 50 percent raises when we're looking at 9c cuts and declining revenues, it's simply unfair," Lyons said.
Only five amendments were filed in total. One amendment filed by Rep. Lenny Mirra pertaining to the retirement eligibility for lawmakers was determined to be beyond the scope of the bill and two others were withdrawn.
Rep. Tricia Farley Bouvier was the only Democrat to propose an amendment to the bill, and withdrew her proposal recommending that lawmakers who live 100 miles or more from the State House receive $25,000 a year for office expenses, up from the proposed $20,000 for any lawmakers living 50 miles or more away from the capital.
Lyons also withdrew his amendment to require the speaker of the House and Senate president to publicly disclose their tax returns to prove they are in compliance with a proposed ban on the top ranking legislators from earning outside income.
State House News Service's Andy Metzger contributed reporting
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