January 29, 2017

On Beacon Hill: It’s all about the raise … but, no trouble?!

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Antonio Caban / State House News Service

In a week that began with overtures of collaboration and ended in a split between the executive and legislative branches on the first major piece of legislation in the new session, Republican Gov. Charlie Baker repeatedly praised the positive working relationship he has with the Democratic-controlled Legislature, which could soon override a veto issued Friday on pay hike legislation.

Recap and analysis of the week in state, and federal, government
from State House News Service

BOSTON — You get a raise. And you get a raise. And you get a raise!

These may not have been the exact words used by House and Senate Democratic leaders when they pitched their caucus on a controversial $18 million package of pay hikes for lawmakers, constitutional officers and judges, but it might have been just as effective as whatever was said.

The House on Wednesday and the Senate on Thursday passed the big pay raise package as their first major order of business this session with veto-proof majorities. Republicans unanimously opposed the bill, blasting the scale of the raise and the process used to ram it through, but only 12 Democrats joined the cause.

So when Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker finally spoke up on Thursday night against the bill and vetoed it Friday morning, the confrontation between Baker and Beacon Hill Democrats felt more like political theater than a full-on escalation of hostilities.

The governor didn’t do much to change that, prefacing his comments on the veto much the way he began and ended his State of the Commonwealth address earlier in the week — with praise for the Legislature as a partner in bipartisan compromise that he hopes will continue.

It was as if Baker meant to say, “I’m sorry, guys. I have to do this. Please understand.”

Any other week, and the news cycle might have belonged to Baker. The governor Tuesday night delivered a well-received address before the Legislature and a day later filed the first budget proposal in state history to top $40 billion in spending — $40.5 billion, to be more precise.

Baker’s address ran through scores of accomplishments, from big to small, over the first two years of his administration. Though he once again put his foot down against new broad-based taxes, the speech was light on policy initiatives — a $4,000 tax credit for businesses hiring veterans — and heavy on paying homage to the power of cooperation and the contrast between the politics of Washington, D.C., and those at home.

“Wedge issues may be great for making headlines, but they do not move this Commonwealth forward. Success is measured by what we accomplish together,” Baker said, an ironic comment given his high-profile veto of the pay raise bill just days later.

— Matt Murphy

OFF THE TOP

No more for Sen. Moore

Millbury Sen. Michael Moore, one of only three Democrats to vote against the measure, said last week he would not accept a pay hike.

Courtesy Sen. Micheal O. Moore's office

State Sen. Mike Moore

“While I recognize the merits of updating compensation formulas that have remained widely unaltered for years, or even decades, I do not feel comfortable accepting the level of compensation authorized by this legislation,” Moore said in a statement.

State Sen. Anne Gobi, D-Spencer, who also voted against the pay raise bill, suggested that to oppose the bill and then accept the money would be hypocrisy.

“You can’t be hypocritical,” she said. “If you vote no, you shouldn’t take the dough, so I won’t take the money.”

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • Baker decries ‘irresponsible’ timing, breadth of pay raise bill, as GOP targets veto protection
  • Video: Reaction to $18M in salary hikes
  • Political insider sees pendulum swinging in Republicans’ favor
  • State economic growth expected to remain stagnant
  • Advocates laud Baker plans to fund transition services for disabled young adults

THE BIG DEAL

Baker rips raises as Republicans look to flip freshman Dems, jeopardize override

By Colin A. Young

BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker needled the legislative pay hikes that lawmakers approved for themselves this week as “fiscally irresponsible,” but defended the Legislature’s process and stopped short of saying he’ll lobby lawmakers to sustain the veto he handed down last Friday.

The controversial $18 million package of pay raises for lawmakers, judges and constitutional officers was swept through the House and Senate this week with veto-proof majorities.

Republican lawmakers were united in their opposition to the raises and Baker declared his veto plans after receiving the bill.

“For most people, the timing of this is inappropriate, and the scale and size of the adjustment is as well,” Baker said in a press conference he called in his office to discuss the matter.

While Baker was coy about whether he would directly lobby lawmakers to reverse their votes, the party he leads was direct about its intentions. Digital ads are being launched by Republicans targeting freshman Democrats who voted for the pay raises. Ten House newcomers voted for the bill and two new senators.

“These freshman Democrat legislators may be pleased enough with their performance in the past few weeks to merit a raise, but their employers — the taxpayers — might disagree,” MassGOP spokesman Terry MacCormack said in a statement. “By voting to give themselves a taxpayer-funded raise before they have accomplished much of anything, these freshmen have shown they’re wasting no time adjusting to the Beacon Hill insider culture.”

Sam Doran (SHNS / file photo)

Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg and House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo

House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s office and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg’s office declined to respond Friday to the governor’s veto and criticisms. A House source said the House plans to vote on overriding the governor’s veto next week.

Baker added at his press conference that he and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito “hope this action will at least ensure that the citizens have more time to make their voices heard.”

Baker said hundreds of people have called his office with concerns about the pay raises and Baker implored them to “share their concerns with their own senators and representatives, many of whom agree with our decision.”

Legislative leaders have taken heat this week for the way they went about boosting their paychecks, having never held a public hearing on the bill itself but instead holding one on a 2014 report recommending even greater pay increases, and hurrying the package through their branches. But Baker on Friday defended the process, despite vetoing the bill and suggesting citizens direct their concerns at the Legislature.

“In fairness to them, OK, on the hearing, they had the hearing on the 2014 report,” he said. “The process they pursued on this has been public. I mean, everybody voted on it, they’re on the record on it.”

In his veto letter though, Baker faulted the process, saying the bill passed “without a reasonable opportunity for public comment.”

[Story continues after video.]

VIDEO OF THE WEEK

Assuming the votes hold, opponents would need to flip 10 additional Democratic votes in the House or five in the Senate to sustain Baker’s veto. All 41 Republicans in the House and Senate voted against the bill.

Asked whether he will lobby Democrats to flip their vote and uphold his veto, the Republican governor said he is “certainly going to talk to some of the folks who have been supportive of our position on this and see what thoughts they have about what might make sense going forward.”

  • Over two days last week, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, mustered veto-proof majorities in both branches for the bill (H 58) that include $45,000 raises for the Legislature’s top two Democrats, bringing their salaries to over $142,000.
  • In addition to $2.8 million in salary and office expense increases for itself, the Legislature voted for $25,000 raises for judges and hikes in the pay for all six constitutional officers, including the governor.
  • The House enacted the pay raises on a 116-43 vote, and the Senate voted 31-9 in support of the pay raises after very little debate.
  • Even if the pay raises become law, Baker has said he and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito would decline the increases, including the proposed $65,000 housing allowance for the governor that would be added to his new $185,000 salary.
  • The raises and the new housing allowance, should they survive, would be available for Baker’s eventual successor and future governors.

— Andy Metzger contributed reporting

 

LOOKING AHEAD

Republicans on the ascent?

One veteran political operative said the pay-raise imbroglio may have turned the tables on the electoral landscape in 2018, assuming voters’ memories are that long.

Doug Rubin, former chief of staff and campaign manager for Gov. Deval Patrick, started the week by suggesting he thought Baker would lose a re-election bid in 2018 if he signed the pay-raise bill.

After Baker’s veto, Rubin had more to say on Twitter:

“The political dynamics in MA heading into 2018 greatly favored D’s … until the way Leg just handled pay raise gave R’s big opening.”

— Matt Murphy

NOTED

Slower economic growth expected well into 2017

The Massachusetts economy grew at a sharply slower rate in the fourth quarter of 2016, and growth is expected to be slow over the first half of 2017, according to data released by the University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute.

In its journal MassBenchmarks, which is published in collaboration with the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, authors wrote that the state economy grew at an annual rate of 0.5 percent in the fourth quarter, down from 3.1 percent in the third quarter. The U.S. economy grew by 3.5 percent in the third quarter and 1.4 percent in the fourth quarter.

The journal projects growth of 0.9 percent and 1 percent in the first and second quarters of 2017, respectively, adding that economists expect a federal fiscal stimulus package to boost growth later in 2017 or in 2018.

Journal authors said labor-force constraints — the state’s jobless rate is at a 16-year low — may be hampering growth, but indicators of spending by households and businesses remained strong during the last quarter of 2016.

Citing Bureau of Economic Analysis estimates, the journal’s authors said the state economy grew by 1.7 percent in the second quarter of 2016 and contracted by 1.9 percent in the first quarter.

— Michael P. Norton

IN THE NEWS

Backers trumpet ‘impressive’ funding for disabled in Baker budget proposal

Advocates for people with disabilities applauded Gov. Charlie Baker’s budget proposal last week for fully funding a program that eases the transition into adult services for young adults with disabilities.

The Arc of Massachusetts cheered the “major policy change” to “right-size” the Department of Developmental Services’ budget for the Turning 22 program, which helps fund the transition of children with disabilities from special education to adult services programs upon their 22nd birthdays.

Baker’s $40.5 billion budget plan for fiscal 2018 recommends $24 million for the Turning 22 program, an increase over the nearly $19 million in spending project for this year, which the Association of Developmental Disabilities Providers (ADDP) called the “most impressive” part of Baker’s budget.

Since 2010, the number of Massachusetts students with disabilities turning 22 each year has increased by 53 percent to about 940, according to the Arc, but the funding formula has not been updated in more than a decade.

“The Arc thanks the administration and will strongly advocate for this budget during the legislative session and encourage legislators to embrace it,” Arc Executive Director Leo Sarkissian wrote in a newsletter to supporters. “It is a policy change that both branches can be proud of, especially as we move through an uncertain future on the federal level.”

— Colin A. Young

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