Imagine More People on Beacon Hill Interrupting Their Careers Than Launching Them

Friday, February 28, 2014

Another long-time state rep resigned a few weeks ago to take a better paying job as a lobbyist. The State House News Service asked one of the departing rep’s colleagues to comment.  That legislator said:

“I think the financial remuneration (as a lobbyist) is such that it makes people think, if you’re trying to make ends meet with $60,000 a year, you want to offer me a job for $120,000?  I’ll leave tomorrow.  If you have a chance to go out and better yourself both financially and professionally, these are the times to do it.”

That was a simple, honest answer.  If someone of modest means has a legitimate opportunity to improve his finances, you can’t blame him for taking it.  Most people would do the same.  

Since the start of the current session in January, 2013, twelve members of the House have either left the chamber for more lucrative jobs or announced they will not seek re-election.  So it was not surprising that WBZ-TV’s Jon Keller asked House Speaker Robert DeLeo on Monday if an effort to increase legislative salaries might be in the offing.  The Speaker quickly answered, “Not yet, no.” 

Base pay for members of both the House and Senate is $60,032 per year.

For a moment, let’s consider a question more profound than why a legislator quits mid-term to take a better paying job.  Let’s think about why we pay legislators $60,032 in the first place.

That figure implies that a legislator is a full-time employee.  As performed by the majority of Massachusetts legislators in recent decades, the job does seem to require at least 40 hours a week.

As Senate President Therese Murray commented to the State House News Service last year, “I know people think that it’s a good salary, but when you’re working sometimes 18 hours a day, 20 hours a day and not seeing your family, it takes a big toll financially and time-wise from your family.”
A position with full-time pay, benefits and pension attracts people who need exactly that.

In earlier times, legislators derived most of their incomes from enterprises, trades and professions. Being a legislator was more like an avocation or, more precisely, an extra burden taken up for the public good, personal glory, or both.   

The world is obviously much more complex than it was one hundred or two hundred years ago.  We can’t bring back the old days, and I don’t want to.   I’m also not suggesting that a typical incumbent’s service is worth less than $60,032.
It’s just that I see greater sacrifices for everyone up ahead.  We will have to contribute more over the next 10 to 20 years to preserve the public services and infrastructure that underpin the quality of life in our Commonwealth.  If we want future generations to have a life as good as we have had, and who doesn’t, we will need to spend more on public higher education, more on public transit, roads and bridges, and more on the preservation of the natural resources that keep us healthy: clean air, water and soil.

We the people will be more willing to make those sacrifices, I believe, if our elected leaders are making demonstrable sacrifices, too. 
Let’s have some inspiration here.

The last office holder I’m aware of who refused to accept his salary was Mitt Romney, who was also noteworthy for eschewing patronage hiring.    

We need more rich men of strong character like Romney (and rich women like that, too) who’ll serve in elective office while declining their salaries. 
We need more men and women of average means who’ll put their careers on hold for two, four or even six years to serve in the legislature while accepting only a small portion of their salaries and returning the rest to the public coffers.

In short, we need more givers.  That’s who built this country.


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