By Bob Katzen
THE HOUSE AND SENATE. There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week. Beacon Hill Roll Call has obtained the 2016 official list from the state treasurer’s office of the “per diem” travel, meals and lodging reimbursements collected by the Legislature’s 160 state representatives from January 1, 2016 through December 1, 2016. The list reveals that representatives collected a total of $226,876. Combined with the $51,725 that the state’s 40 senators collected as reported in last week’s Beacon Hill Roll Call, the grand total for both branches is $278,601.
Under state law, per diems are paid by the state to representatives “for each day for travel from his place of residence to the Statehouse and return therefrom, while in the performance of his official duties, upon certification to the state treasurer that he was present at the Statehouse.” These reimbursements are given to representatives above and beyond their regular salaries.
The amount of the per diem varies and is based on the city or town in which a representative resides and its distance from the Statehouse. The Legislature in 2000 approved a law doubling these per diems to the current amounts. The payments range from $10 per day for legislators who reside in the Greater Boston area to $90 per day for some Western Massachusetts lawmakers and $100 per day for those in Nantucket. Representatives who are from areas that are a long distance from Boston’s Statehouse most often collect the highest total of annual per diems.
Some supporters of the per diems say the system is fair and note the rising costs of travel, food and lodging. They argue many legislators spend a lot of money on travel to the Statehouse and some spend the night in Boston following late sessions. Others say that some legislators accept the per diem but use all revenue they receive to support local nonprofit causes. They say that not taking the per diem would leave that money in the state’s General Fund to be spent on who knows what.
Some opponents argue most private sector and state workers are not paid additional money for commuting. They say the very idea of paying any per diem is outrageous when thousands of workers have lost their jobs and homes, and funding for important programs has been cut.
The 2016 statistics indicate that 87 of the state’s 160 representatives have received reimbursements ranging $60 to $8,550, while 73 have so far chosen not to request any money. According to the state treasurer’s office, a legislator can request to be paid a per diem for any day in the current year and the previous year. Any request for a day prior to that time period will be denied.
The representative who received the most per diem money in 2016 is Rep. Timothy Madden (D-Nantucket) who received $9,700.
The other four representatives who received the most are Reps. William “Smitty” Pignatelli (D-Lenox), $8,550; (Former) Rep. Ellen Story (D-Amherst), $5,820; Robert Koczera (D-New Bedford), $5,715; and Patricia Farley-Bouvier (D-Pittsfield), $5,580.
REPRESENTATIVES’ 2016 PER DIEMS TOTAL
The dollar figure next to the representative’s name represents the total amount of per diem money the state paid him or her in 2016. The number in parentheses represents the number of days the representative certified he or she was at the Statehouse during that same period.
Representatives who have not requested any per diems have “0 days” listed. That is not meant to imply that these legislators didn’t attend any sessions but rather that they chose not to request any per diems.
Rep. Christine Barber $1,020 (102 days) Rep. Denise Provost $1,160 (116 days)
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
HEARING ON PAY RAISE FOR STATEWIDE OFFICEHOLDERS, SENATE PRESIDENT AND HOUSE SPEAKER AND CHANGES TO LEGISLATORS’ SALARIES AND BENEFITS – The Joint Committee on Ways and Means held a brief one-hour hearing on the two-year-old report of the Special Advisory Commission on the Compensation of Public Officials, created by the Legislature in June 2014. The hearing was convened with less than 72-hours-notice to the public.
The commission recommended pay raises for the state’s six constitutional statewide officers, the speaker of the House and the Senate president.
Other hikes suggested by the panel include increasing each legislator’s annual general expense allowance from $7,200 to either $10,000 or $15,000 depending on the member’s distance from the Statehouse; eliminating legislative per diem payments for meals and lodging reimbursements; changing the source and data on which current biennial legislative salary increases and decreases are based; and providing a $65,000 annual housing allowance for the governor.
The commission issued its report back in December 2014 but the Legislature never held a hearing on it. Ira Jackson, Dean of the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston, chaired the group.
“Our commission has been non-partisan, fact-driven and guided by principles and a philosophy about public compensation,” Jackson said in the report. “We have worked hard [and] conducted our business transparently. While issues around public compensation are inherently controversial and often contentious, we believe that these recommendations are fair and balanced and we are proud of what we have accomplished in less than 90 days.”
Jackson echoed those remarks at last week’s hearing. Other members of the commission also spoke in favor of the pay hikes and other changes.
Only Chip Faulkner, Director of Communications for Citizens for Limited Taxation (CLT), testified against the hikes. Faulkner spoke with Beacon Hill Roll following the hearing.
“Only in the Massachusetts State House could the Joint Committee on Ways and Means suddenly out of nowhere call for a public hearing with less than 72 hours’ notice on the day before the Presidential Inauguration ― and for what?” asked Faulkner. “For huge raises being proposed for the legislative leadership and constitutional officers. The salary proposals heard today were completely indifferent to what the voters had approved in 1998 and showed complete disdain for the state constitution. I asked ‘What part of the constitution don’t you understand?’ Complete silence followed that question.”
Faulkner continued, “The state is facing a deficit anticipated to be in the $500 million to $600 million range this coming fiscal year starting July 1st. With deficits looming and possible cuts in the budget, huge salary increases now being contemplated for a select few is ludicrous. None of the committee members had any follow-up questions of me following my testimony. This hearing belonged in the Bizarro World. Our tax dollars at work.”
The Special Commission concluded that the compensation of the Commonwealth’s constitutional officers and legislative leadership is generally outdated and inadequate. “Massachusetts state government is … a large and complex organization that provides vital services that affect every citizen, and as such it needs to attract talented, publicly spirited and honest individuals from diverse socio-economic and geographic backgrounds to fulfill its mission of serving every citizen,” said the commission report.
The report continued, “Compensation for public officials should be adequate to attract and retain qualified individuals to a public career and ensure that there is not a temptation to betray the public trust.”
The panel recommends that the governor’s salary be increased by $33,200, from $151,800 to $185,000; the lieutenant governor by $30,068, from $134,932 to $165,000; secretary of state by 34,738 from $130,262 to $165,000; treasurer by 47,083 from $127,917 to $175,000; auditor by 30,048 from $137,425 to $165,000; attorney general by $44,418 from $130,582 to $175,000; and the speaker and senate president by $79,967 from $95,033 to $175,000.
It also recommends that the six constitutional officers and the House speaker and Senate president be prohibited from earning outside income, other than passive income from investments. The panel notes this would preclude the potential for conflicts of interest, and recognize the full-time nature of their duties and the increased compensation recommended.
The commission also calls for an end to legislative per diems which are travel, meals and lodging reimbursements collected by the legislators. These reimbursements are given to legislators above and beyond their regular salaries.
The amount of the per diem varies and is based on the city or town in which a legislator resides and its distance from the Statehouse.
The commission report said that the per diem calculation conforms neither to state nor federal practice and does not require verification in order to receive reimbursement. It noted, “While doing away with the per diem would impose a disproportionate cost on legislators living further away from Boston, the commission believes that the current per diem policy is out-of-date.”
While the commission recommends that the per diem should be eliminated, it also suggests that the annual general expense allowance for each legislator should increase from $7,200 to $10,000 for members whose districts are within a 50-mile radius of the Statehouse and to $15,000 for districts located outside of that radius. The most recent increase in office expense was a hike from $3,600 to $7,200 in 2000. The office expense is used to support a variety of costs including rent of a district office, contributions to local civic groups and the printing and mailing of newsletters. Legislators are issued a 1099 from the state and are required to report the $7,200 as income but are not required to submit an accounting of how they spend it.
The commission also calls for an annual $65,000 housing allowance for the governor, noting that Massachusetts is one of only six states that supplies neither a governor’s residence nor a housing allowance, even as Boston has the most expensive housing market of any of the state capitals. The commission said, “The burden on a governor from Western Massachusetts or someone with modest means is obvious and may be a deterrent to seeking office.”
Finally, the commission recommends changing the source and data on which current biennial legislative salary increases and decreases are based. In 1998, voters approved by a two-to-one margin a constitutional amendment requiring governors to calculate and announce an increase or decrease in legislative salaries every two years. The specific language requires legislative salaries to be “increased or decreased at the same rate as increases or decreases in the median household income for the commonwealth for the preceding two-year period, as ascertained by the governor.”
The commission concludes that the methods used to make that adjustment vary from governor to governor because each one can decide what formula to use to calculate the median household income. The commission suggests that the formula should be set by state law to provide consistency and transparency and that the same biennial adjustment should apply to the salaries of the governor, the other five constitutional officers, the Senate president and House speaker. The panel said it has researched several options and data sources for calculating the change and recommends using data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) that measures the quarterly change in salaries and wages.
Legislators’ salaries were increased by $2,515 for the 2017-2018 legislative session. The current base pay for legislators is $62,547. That hike came on the heels of a salary freeze for the 2015-2016 legislative session, a $1,100 pay cut for the 2013-2014 session and a $306 pay cut for the 2011-2012 session. Prior to 2011, legislators’ salaries had been raised every two years since the $46,410 base pay was first raised under the constitutional amendment in 2001.
The new $62,547 salary means legislative salaries have been raised $16,137, or 34.8 percent, since the mandated salary adjustment became part of the state constitution.
The commission also used the 2013-2014 salary adjustment as an example to point out the differences between the two formulas. Under the current formula, legislators’ salaries were cut by 1.8 percent for the 2013-2014 session reducing the base salary of each senator and representative by $1,100 – from $61,132 to $60,032.
If the commission’s new system of using the BEA was in effect in for the 2013-2014 legislative session, legislative salaries would have increased by 6.1 percent and raised salaries $5,278 – from $61,132 to $66,410.
The complete report can be found on the commission’s website: https://www.umb.edu/academics/mgs/special_projects/masspubliccomp/report
GOV. BAKER SIGNS MORE BILLS INTO LAW – Gov. Charlie Baker signed several bills into law last week including:
PROTECT BICYCLISTS (S 2534) – Prohibits drivers from parking in bike lanes and from placing their vehicle in a manner that would interfere with the safety and passage of bicyclists. Violators would be fined up to $50.
Supporters say that prior to passage of this new law, cities and towns passed local ordinances addressing this issue and the result is a patchwork of inconsistent rules and enforcement. They note that when drivers park in these lanes they endanger bicyclists who are forced to merge into traffic.
ELECTRIC VEHICLES (H 4781) – Regulates and encourages the use of zero-emission vehicles. The new law prohibits owners of public electric vehicle charging stations from requiring a person to pay for a membership to use the stations but allows the stations to charge different prices for members and non-members. It also allows municipalities to designate parking spaces for use only by zero-emission vehicles and to fine and tow vehicles that violate that rule.
Other provisions require the state to establish regulations for electric vehicle charging for residential and commercial buildings; issue a feasibility study on the electrification of state-owned vehicles; and conduct a study examining the advisability and feasibility of assessing taxes, surcharges, levies or other assessments to offset projected gas tax revenue loss from the increasing purchase or operation of zero-emission vehicles.
Supporters say it is past time to regulate these vehicles and offer incentives for drivers to use them. They argue this can reduce U.S. reliance on imported oil, increase energy security and help save the environment.
REQUIRE DEFIBRILLATORS IN SCHOOLS (H 4719) – Requires automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) in all public schools and their athletic events. The new law also mandates that each school have on duty a person who has completed a course on CPR and the use of an AED. It allows a school to get a hardship waiver if it can’t comply with this new law. Another provision protects the operator of the AED from liability other than gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct when using it on a patient.
Supporters say this common-sense requirement will save lives and argued this type of legislation should have become law years ago.
EYE DROPS (H 4195) – Requires insurance plans to cover refills of prescription eye drops under the same guidelines used by Medicare Part D. Prior to passage of this new law, Bay State law restricted patients from refilling eye drops and other medications earlier than the 30-day or 90-day refill date.
The new law allows patients to get a refill if they run out of drops a few days prior to the allowed refill date and permits some optometrists to treat anaphylactic reactions by injecting epinephrine or adrenaline. Under prior law, only ophthalmologists were allowed to do so.
Supporters say that unlike pills, eye drops are difficult to administer and patients often use more than one drop at a time because the first drop misses. They argue this leads to patients either taking a twice daily eye drop only once a day or discontinuing their use of drops until the next allowable refill under their health plan. They note that this can cause their condition, like glaucoma, to worsen and presents serious health and vision risks.
“I was inspired to file this legislation out of the experiences of so many families in my district and elsewhere in Massachusetts who are struggling to pay for college. Our ultimate goal must be for every student, most especially students from low-income and working-class families, to be able to go to college without having to take out loans or incur crippling debt.”
Sen. Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) on his legislation to require the state to cover the cost of all state college tuition and mandatory curriculum or course fees not covered by state or federal grants.
“We cannot rely on gradualism or an ‘either/or’ approach when our most aggressive agreement – the Paris Climate Agreement – will inevitably heat up the world past a disruptive tipping point by 2100. We need an over-arching plan that will attack all aspects of the problem and do it yesterday. The urgency of the situation necessitates investing every penny in moving us immediately to a zero-carbon future.”
Darcy DuMont, Climate Action NOW spokesperson, urging Massachusetts legislators and policymakers to adopt a bolder and more comprehensive and accelerated climate plan.
“As a regulated public utility, Eversource is required to justify why the state should permit it to raise electric rates on residents and business customers. Our initial evaluation shows that Eversource should be returning profits to customers as savings, not raising rates. We urge [the Department of Public Utilities] … to reject Eversource’s request for a rate hike.”
Attorney General Maura Healey speaking in opposition to Eversource request to increase its customers’ rates by $96 million.
“It didn’t become a reality, but the conversations continue. We have every intention to refile again this session and now we think it’s more important than ever, especially with the passage of ballot question four and the increase in the rise of electronic delivery devices [like e-cigarettes].”
Rep. Paul McMurtry from a State House News Service interview on his bill to raise the age for the purchase of tobacco from 18 to 21.
HOW LONG WAS LAST WEEK’S SESSION? Beacon Hill Roll Call tracks the length of time that the House and Senate were in session each week. Many legislators say that legislative sessions are only one aspect of the Legislature’s job and that a lot of important work is done outside of the House and Senate chambers. They note that their jobs also involve committee work, research, constituent work and other matters that are important to their districts. Critics say that the Legislature does not meet regularly or long enough to debate and vote in public view on the thousands of pieces of legislation that have been filed. They note that the infrequency and brief length of sessions are misguided and lead to irresponsible late night sessions and a mad rush to act on dozens of bills in the days immediately preceding the end of an annual session.
During the week of January 16-20, the House met for a total of one hour and 47 minutes while the Senate met for a total of one hour and nine minutes.
Mon. January 16 No House session
No Senate session
Tues. January 17 House 11:03 a.m. to 11:07 a.m.
Senate 11:13 a.m. to 11:15 a.m
Wed. January 18 No House session
No Senate session
Thurs. January 19 House 11:07 a.m. to 12:50 p.m.
Senate 11:05 a.m. to 12:12 p.m.
Fri. January 20 No House session
No Senate session
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org