With Heftier Paychecks, Massachusetts Politicians Prepare To Set 2019 Agenda

Dec 31, 2018

In the new year, Massachusetts politicians are going to have some extra disposable income.

We are entering 2019 and that brings a pay hike for a bunch of elected officials – including Governor Charlie Baker, who previously said he wouldn't take the raise, but now will.

Sam Hudzik, NEPR: What's the story there?

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: Yeah, well, a couple of things happened last week – the first being something that happens every two years, and is required in the Constitution. The governor has to look at what's happened to median household income, and send a letter to the treasurer certifying what should happen to legislative pay – at least the base pay for the rank-and-file lawmakers in the new session.

This year, it's going up by nearly 6 percent — a 5.9 percent raise. For members of the House and Senate, that translates to about $3,700, raising their base pay to $66,256. And that's just a start. Leaders in the House and Senate get stipends that are also going up. They get office budgets that are also going up.

So a lot of raises being handed out in the new year, and some of those are going to constitutional officers like Governor Baker.

In 2017, when the legislature pushed through a package of pay raises for themselves and other public officials, the governor turned down a significant salary bump that would have raised his pay from $151,000 to $185,000, and also given him a brand new $65,000 housing allowance that the governor has never received in Massachusetts before.

He turned that down in 2017, but as he said on the campaign trail — and actually during his last televised debate of the gubernatorial campaign — he is going to take the new pay in this start of his second term. So his salary is taking a big jump up.

I suppose Baker's change of heart on that would have been quite a bit more controversial if he'd not talked about it, or acknowledged that, during the campaign. But he did do it before voters had their say.

He did. He got asked the question, and I think it surprised some people, but he said [paraphrasing], "Look, I didn't like the way the legislature pushed through this pay raise. I didn't agree with it. I was concerned with how the state was going to pay for it." And he actually vetoed that bill, and he was overridden by the Democratic-controlled legislature.

But during the campaign, he said that if voters were to elect him to a new term, he would abide by what was called for in the law. Really not much of a concession there from the governor, to follow the law, and take this this huge pay raise. But he said that because if a law called for it, he would go along with it, and take it in the new term. And that's what he did, and voters knew that, and overwhelmingly sent him back to office.

Those constitutional officers, including the governor and the legislature, are going to get sworn in this week. What's going to top the state's agenda?

It's an interesting time of year. I think there's still a lot of questions. The governor is to be sworn in the day after the legislature on Thursday. He'll be giving his second inaugural speech, where we expect to hear him lay out some of his goals for the first half of his second term. He will kind of put some meat on the bones of what he said during the campaign, which was actually not a lot.

He talked about continuing the work that he has been doing over the first four years of his administration, such as working on fixing the T and the commuter rail, fighting the opioid epidemic.

I think the big question going into the new session is how new Senate President Karen Spilka will work with Governor Baker and House Speaker Robert DeLeo, both of whom [DeLeo and Spilka] are expected to be re-elected.

Spilka, of course, only had a few months under her belt at the end of last session, and that'll be an interesting dynamic to watch in the new session, when we could see taxes come back on the table.

The [state's] Supreme [Judicial] Court dealt a big blow to Democrats' hopes for investing in things like the transportation system, infrastructure and education last year when they knocked [an income tax surcharge] off the ballot.

We've heard a lot of rumbling among progressive Democrats that they want to bring taxes back up for debate this session. That could be a point of friction between the legislature and the governor.

So as you look at Massachusetts politics and government going into 2019, what's the big story to watch?

In addition to taxes, I think you're going to see a big push on climate change in the new session, and a big push on reforming education and the way the state pays for education. Those are two of the big issues that we're watching.

And, of course, you can't count out the fact that we could have a sitting U.S. senator [Elizabeth Warren] running for president in the new year.

Keep up here with Beacon Hill In 5.