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Citing Mass. income drop, Patrick cuts lawmaker pay

Glen Johnson

The national recession that’s curbed private-sector salaries in Massachusetts has now caught up with the pay for state lawmakers.

Gov. Deval Patrick fulfilled a constitutional duty when he announced Monday, based on a decline in median household income during the past two years, that legislative pay will be cut by half a percentage point for the next two years.

For House and Senate members who have been receiving a base salary of $61,440 annually, it amounts to a $307 cut.

And because the salaries for Patrick, Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray and other constitutional officers are linked to legislative pay by statute, the governor indirectly reduced his own pay, as well as that of Murray, Attorney General Martha Coakley, Secretary of State William Galvin, Treasurer-elect Steve Grossman and Auditor-elect Suzanne Bump.

Patrick faces a cut of $700 on what had been a $140,535 salary.

The governor planned to address the cut Monday afternoon, but beforehand, both Senate President Therese Murray and House Speaker Robert DeLeo spoke on behalf of the 200-member Legislature and said the cut was expected.

It was the first since voters approved a 1998 constitutional amendment rescinding lawmakers’ authority to set salaries for themselves and linking them instead to a gubernatorial review of economic indicators.

“The people made the decision several years ago to take the politics out of legislative pay raises or cuts and tie them to the median household income,” Murray said. “Given the economic crisis we have faced in recent years, a reduction in legislative salaries comes as no surprise.”

DeLeo also referred to the amendment and said the cut “is not unexpected given the current economic climate.”

The 40 members of the Senate, as well as the 160 members of the House, were scheduled to be sworn in to their new terms on Wednesday.

In addition to their base pay, many House and Senate members will receive bonuses of up to $7,500 for committee chairmanships or floor posts.

They also have taxpayer-funded office accounts; receive per diems for travel to and from the Statehouse; can qualify for a reduction in federal taxes if they live far enough from Boston; and are allowed to use campaign donations for vehicles, travel and restaurant dining, so long as the purpose is considered a campaign expense or enhancement of their political future.

Many lawmakers also work second jobs as attorneys, real estate brokers or as other professionals, even though the Legislature contends it is a full-time body.

In 2009, using the same economic data, Patrick approved a 5.5 percent salary increase — though he and some lawmakers did not accept it. Since 2008, state tax collections have plummeted amid the recession, forcing Patrick and lawmakers to cut billions from the state budget.

The recession also boosted the state unemployment rate to more than 9 percent, though it has since fallen to just over 8 percent.

Patrick announced his 2011 decision in a one-paragraph letter to one of his November re-election opponents, Treasurer Timothy Cahill, who issues state paychecks.

“We have ascertained, from the federal census American Community Survey and reports of average weekly wages, that the median household income for the commonwealth for the preceding two-year period decreased by 0.5 percent,” the governor wrote.

Associated Press