Opinion

Legislative pay raises make sense

White dollar sign on turquoise

When state legislators talk about giving themselves a pay raise, people come out of the woodwork pointing fingers and calling elected officials undeserving thieves determined to fleece the taxpayers.

Most people only think about state representatives and state senators when they go to the polls and vote for or against a candidate listed on the ballot. But the very act of voting for an elected official to serve in a public office is an indirect endorsement of the salary that official earns.

Massachusetts legislators this week are debating compensation increases that would increase the pay for House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg by $45,000 a year.

The pay increases for DeLeo and Rosenberg, according to the State House News Service, would bring the salaries of the top Democrats in the House and Senate from $97,547 to $142,547 by increasing their stipend from $35,000 to $80,000 a year on top of the base salary for all lawmakers.

Rosenberg and DeLeo pointed out in interviews that legislative presiding officers have not seen raises in 33 years. DeLeo describes the speaker’s job as an around-the-clock, 365-days-a-year responsibility.

The two leaders make less than many state department heads and even second-tier state division and bureau directors. They also make less than many leaders in the nonprofit and business worlds.  

Pay raise critics say legislators shouldn’t vote on their own pay. But legislators get evaluated by their employer — the Massachusetts voter — every two years and they either pass muster or get fired.

Rosenberg and DeLeo have won the voter’s confidence to serve multiple terms on Beacon Hill. We believe they deserve a pay raise and resoundingly support the proposed increase.

Bob DeLeo wins election after election and most of his constituents probably aren’t standing in the voting booth asking themselves if the Winthrop Democrat, who represents part of Revere, is worth $97,547.

What they are probably thinking, if they are voting in Revere is, “DeLeo helped get a half dozen new schools built in the city in 10 years.” They are also saying, “I like his views on this issue. OK, I disagree with him on this stance, but he has done a good job for our community.”

What they are probably not thinking before they cast a ballot is, “Geez, is this guy less effective in the Legislature or less interested in my concerns if he’s making $142,547 a year?”

Massachusetts’ political landscape features a popular Republican governor and a Legislature dominated by Democrats led by DeLeo and Rosenberg. The real question voters and pay raise critics should ask is how can top legislators and Gov. Baker work together to tackle Massachusetts’ problems, including helping the least fortunate, repairing the crumbling transportation infrastructure and providing as much support as possible for the economy.

Here’s hoping the pay raise debate is dispensed with quickly so legislators can get on with concerns that really matter to Massachusetts residents.

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