A Note on the Pay Raise



In the interest of transparency and not hiding from an uncomfortable subject on Beacon Hill, I have decided to take some time to describe the thought process and facts behind the change to elected officials’ pay this year.

Like so many initiatives in the Legislature, changing legislators’ compensation began with a commission. Created in 2014, the commission was asked to review how state constitutional officers, such as the Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Treasurer, Auditor and Secretary of State are paid as well as how judges, court clerks, and legislators, are paid.

The commission was asked by the legislature to examine several questions which had been stirring for a long time and needed addressing. The report itself was released in December 2014, but was not taken up until this year.

Here is a list of some of the guiding questions in the report with the rest of the questions in the link below.

  • How do current salaries of Constitutional Officers, the Senate President, and House Speaker compare with compensation for private sector positions with similar responsibilities?
  • Are these salaries sufficient to attract and retain highly qualified individuals broadly representative of the general public to these positions?
  • Where does Massachusetts rank in terms of gubernatorial salary in comparison to other states?
  • Does the relationship between the Governor’s salary and other Constitutional Officers’ salaries appropriately reflect the importance of each position’s respective responsibilities?
  • Does the relationship between the Governor’s salary and those of the Senate President and the House Speaker appropriately reflect the importance of each position’s responsibilities?

The commission sought individuals with an interest in the standards of good government. It included two people from the University of Massachusetts, one from the Governor’s budget office, one person from the League of Women Voters and one from the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, and two more from the private sector.

As a group, its members were experienced, competent, and professional in producing their report through a series of public hearings. You can find the names of the commissioners and the whole report here.

Overall, the commission pointed out that the pay structure was messy, and in need of streamlining, with an eye towards the aforementioned questions of retaining talented public servants in leadership and rank-and-file roles.

Compensation in the private sector is considerably higher than in the public sector, so it can be an immense challenge to retain experienced leaders in government when they can be paid more for a similar workload in the private sector

Over the years, political science research has found that state legislatures that provide their lawmakers with larger staffs and salaries are more efficient by passing a greater percentage of bills overall and enacting more bills per legislative day.

For the vast majority of legislators, pay is determined by an amendment in the Massachusetts Constitution, Article XCVIII. The base compensation for myself and my colleagues is tied to the median household income of the state, rising and falling based on the median. For example, in 2007 that number was approximately $58,000, and this past year it was approximately $62,500.

This base compensation used to be supplemented with an expense allowance of $7,200, which was fixed by statute.  Legislators were also able to claim a statutory per diem. These payments were calculated by commute distance for each day that legislators travelled to the State House ranging from $10-$100. Based on my district's proximity to the State House, my per-diem was set at $18. The bill we passed to change our compensation structure eliminated these per diem reimbursements, therefore our total expense account dollars went from $7,200 + per-diems to a flat $15,000. Even with this change, legislators are still making less than they did in the 1980s when adjusted for inflation.

This session I was appointed to be the House Chair of the newly-created Joint Committee on Export Development. Chairs are provided with an additional stipend for the extra workload we take on, and the size of the stipend is dependent on the workload of the committee. For example, the Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, who handles the budget, receives a stipend of about $65,000. In my new role as a chair, I receive a stipend of $15,000 while last session as Vice Chair of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing I had received a stipend of $7,500. It is worth noting that the committee that I now chair did not exist when we voted on this bill and I did not know I would be promoted.

When we think of serving in the legislature, perhaps the first thing that comes to mind is that it is an honor. We are given the trust of the people who vote for us to lead and in turn vote on bills that can have a significant impact on their lives. Serving in elected office is public service and one that deserves my full-time attention, so I gave up my accounting practice that I ran for over two decades. My thinking was that with budget season and tax season spanning much of the same time on the calendar it was unfair to my constituents and my clients to have my attention so divided at that time. I have never regretted this decision but certainly do miss the income from my accounting practice.

Voting on a bill that raised my own pay was not something I did without great introspection and discussion, especially since we spend so much time working to help people who have fallen on hard times in their own lives. But at the same time, to argue against it is to devalue our work and would indicate that I do not feel my colleagues are worthy of a raise. My colleagues from both parties are thoughtful, intelligent, well-qualified, and caring individuals and after almost two decades since the last raise, I felt it was time. More broadly speaking, with this change we can make our democracy stronger, in which people without means can realistically consider public office as a career, especially as I see so many young, talented leaders wanting to choose service over the corporate world.

My colleagues and I are proud each and every day to go to work as public servants for the people of the Commonwealth. Our legislature, the longest continuously running in the United States, functions well and as intended. The honor of this service has never diminished during my time as your representative, and I will continue to work hard each and every day to earn it.

Preyel Patelpay raise