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Judicial, political pay hikes suggested

But leaders reject the timing of raises

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Frank Phillips
Globe Staff / June 20, 2008

A special panel today will recommend large pay raises - some up to 70 percent - for the state's top politicians and judges, but the board's report was immediately rejected by high-ranking leaders as unacceptable in the current economic climate.

The five-member independent compensation review board, set up by the Legislature last year, said judges deserve a raise of 25 percent, to $160,000. It said the House speaker and Senate president should receive a similar rate of pay, which would be an increase of 70 percent for them. It also called for pay hikes for the governor, lieutenant governor, and others. Governor Deval Patrick's yearly paycheck, for example, would rise from $147,000 to $175,000, a 19 percent increase.

The entire package of raises - which the Globe reviewed yesterday and will be publicly unveiled today - would cost $13.3 million a year. The proposed hikes were based on a systematic review of salaries paid to top officials in states across the country.

But the very politicians who would benefit said yesterday that they would not endorse the proposal. With the state facing a budget deficit of more than $1 billion, home foreclosures rampant, and gas prices topping $4 a gallon, it would send the wrong message, they said.

House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi, who earns $93,237 a year, said in a statement that he, Patrick, and Senate President Therese Murray have agreed that "given the state of the economy and the Commonwealth's ongoing budget deficit, any salary increases of this kind will be put on hold."

"Base salary increases of this kind simply cannot be considered at a time when so many worthy state programs and initiatives must be level-funded or cut," said DiMasi, who had to sharply curtail his law practice when he became speaker in 2004. The board plan would have raised his salary to $159,100.

The initiative for the compensation review came from the legislative leadership. Patrick, whom aides said was always cool to the idea of pay raises, was out of state yesterday, but Lieutenant Governor Timothy P. Murray echoed the speaker's statement.

"With the concerns relative to the current economy and an already $1.3 billion structural state budget deficit, now is not an appropriate time for us to agree to an increase in compensation," said Murray, whose salary would increase from $124,920 to $148,714.

The rejection by the legislative leadership and the governor kills for now the work the Board of Compensation has been doing for the past six months. Members of the special panel declined to comment yesterday. Paul Guzzi, president of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce and cochairman of the panel, said the proposals are embargoed until this afternoon when the board holds a news conference in Boston.

A major concern among Beacon Hill leaders was the spark that such raises would give to the petition drive to repeal the state's income tax, which provides 40 percent of the revenues for the budget, according to sources who have been in discussions with political leaders. A coalition led by the state's Libertarian Party leaders say it has gathered enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The repeal question was barely defeated in 2002.

The compensation panel has been keeping its recommendations under tight wraps, but the Globe has been briefed on some of the details of its report. Under its recommendations, other constitutional officers would also be given significant raises. The attorney general's pay would move from $133,644 to $159,100, and the secretary of state and state auditor's salaries would go from $130,916 to $155,852. Judges, who were given a raise to $129,694 from $112,777 in 2006, their first increase in six years, would be given automatic cost-of-living raises along with the jump of their salaries - to $160,000.

As some details have leaked, clerks of the courts - whose salaries and the wage of their assistants for years has been about 81.5 percent of judges' salaries - were gearing up to battle the plan because it would break that formula and allow judges to outpace their raises.

Daniel J. Hogan, clerk magistrate of the Boston Municipal Court who heads the state's clerks association, said his group would strongly oppose any "decoupling" of their salaries from judicial pay levels.

"I would be very disappointed if that is their recommendation," he said. "That would be a bit beyond the scope of the committee."

The clerks, with their patronage hirings and control of court proceedings, wield a huge amount of influence over lawmakers, almost all of whom have one or more district court in their legislative districts.

In addition to Guzzi, other members of the compensation panel include: Nova Costa, managing director of Salary.com; Stephen Crosby, dean of the McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies, University of Massachusetts at Boston; Pamela Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause/Massachusetts; and Thomas Kochan, professor of management at MIT's Sloan School of Management.

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