As people across Southern New England struggle to make ends meet, Massachusetts lawmakers are getting a significant pay raise.
Each of the state’s senators and representatives were eligible for a 6.46% base salary bump this year, amounting to $4,280, and raising the incoming salary of elected leaders to more than $70,500.
On top of that, lawmakers got another 4.89% raise in office expenses, which can range from $16,245 to $21,660, depending on where they live in comparison to the State House.
The third raise is what’s receiving the most attention from critics. Legislative leaders and committee chairs were also eligible for a 4.89% bump in their stipends.
The increases come at a difficult time for the state, as estimates show over 271,000 residents were unemployed as of December.
They’ve also drawn criticism from people like Pioneer Institute Research Director and former House Rep. Gregory Sullivan, who argues that taxpayer money could have been better spent.
“I think the voters might really question whether the timing is right for the legislature to give triple pay raises,” he said.
The base pay bump is part of a constitutional amendment, which ties lawmakers pay to the household median income.
However, Governor Baker also has a say in the exact amount.
This year, he authorized a 6.46% raise, which is far higher than the 5.9% raise approved in 2019.
Sullivan doesn’t believe that the jump in base pay is unreasonable.
Instead, he takes issue with the other raises.
“In the state Senate, virtually everyone gets extra stipend pay, almost literally. The base pay is actually more like $100,000 plus, going up from there,” he said.
The raise in legislative stipends and office expenses is part of a controversial law pushed through by lawmakers in 2017, despite resistance from Governor Baker.
That law increased stipends for leadership positions and office expenses for lawmakers, by linking future raises to the collective change in salaries and wages over the previous eight quarters.
It’s up to each individual lawmaker to turn down the increases.
Gov. Charlie Baker, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, Attorney General Maura Healey and Treasurer Deborah Goldberg have all rejected the 4.89% raise.
The I-Team discovered only four lawmakers have rejected the base pay raise, including Bristol County Representative Christopher Hendricks.
Hendricks sent the I-Team the following statement about his decision.
“I decided to refuse the increase because, in the times of COVID-19, we have thousands out of work in Massachusetts and we should try to mitigate financial pressure as much as we can," Hendricks.
He went on to say that he works part-time as an attorney and doesn’t have a family or children to support, putting him in a different position than many of his colleagues.
Sources told the I-Team Rep. Sheila Harrington, Senator John Keenan and Senator Anne Gobi also rejected the base pay increase for 2021. Rep. Kathleen LaNatra and Rep. Donald Berthiaume declined the increase for the current legislative session.
Bristol County Rep. Christopher Markey cut his raise in half, accepting just 3% of it.
The I-Team contacted all 18 Bristol County legislators’ multiple times to see what they had to say about accepting the pay bump during a pandemic, yet only five of them got back to us, Rep. Patricia Haddad Rep. Hendricks, Sen. Michael Rodriguez, Rep. Christopher Markey and Rep. Adam Scanlon.
Scanlon was the only lawmaker willing to go on camera.
The NBC 10 I-Team asked Rep. Adam Scanlon of North Attleborough if he understands why people are upset.
“Definitely. A lot of people are in need right now,” he said. “I understand that people could be upset with lawmakers getting a raise, but for me personally, I try to work 24/7."
Scanlon is newly elected, which means he walked into the raise as his base salary in January.
“I work on the weekends. I answer peoples phone calls on my own phone and I’m out delivering groceries to seniors in need," he said.
When asked whether he believes his colleagues are putting in the work to deserve the raise, Scanlon responded, “Yes, I do. Many of them have taken on new roles during the pandemic.”
Still, Sullivan is one of the many people in Massachusetts who would have preferred to see that money go back into the General Fund, to help those who need it most.
“If the legislature has any extra money to spare they should be using it to try and bail out the small and medium size businesses, who are literally in many cases struggling to survive," said Sullivan.
The following Bristol County lawmakers did not return our calls:
Rep. Patricia Haddad responded to us but said she had no comment on the raises at this time.
Senator Michael Rodriguez told the I-Team he’s been around for pay raises, pay freezes and pay cuts, and accepts whatever the raise is supposed to be, as established in the constitution.
Rep. Christopher Markey also got back to us, saying only accepting a portion of the raise was a personal decision, but he didn’t want to comment further.