AN INSIDE LOOK - Commentary and opinions on local politics and life in general in Southeastern Massachusetts! Featuring the writings of Bill Gouveia, newspaper columnist for the Sun Chronicle and local cable TV talk show host. Feel free to read, comment and enjoy!
Monday, March 13, 2017
Excuses Over Pay Raise Just Don't Cut It
GOUVEIA: Raising excuses on Beacon Hill
BY BILL GOUVEIA FOR THE SUN CHRONICLE
SUN CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO
The Statehouse Dome on Beacon Hill in Boston.
There was much howling and gnashing of teeth a short while back when our illustrious state legislators - led by their dictatorial and arrogant leadership on the Democratic side - voted themselves pay raises at a time when they technically weren't even in session. The outrage was sincere and swift.
It was also short-lived and soon forgotten, as those who pushed the raises through knew full well it would be. With so much going on at all levels of government, it was easy to distract the voting public with the next new and shiny problem.
But it is still somewhat of a sore-spot for many, as some representatives such as North Attleboro's Betty Poirier know all too well.
A veteran Republican lawmaker, Poirier is the Republican whip, also known as the second assistant Republican leader. Before the pay raise, she and other party legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle received an extra $15,000 per year for performing those duties, above and beyond their $62,000 base pay. But that jumped to $35,000 under the new arrangement, an increase of some 133 percent.
When it was time to vote on the raises, Poirier voted against them. In fact, every Republican in the House voted against them. Given that they comprise such a small percentage of the overall legislature, they could safely do that and still be assured the raises would pass.
That's not to say they didn't honestly oppose them, but the fact remains they were in a position to take credit for said opposition and still enjoy the benefits of passage. It was very much like most Democrats voting for it to remain in the good graces of the powerful Speaker.
But some Republicans such as Sen. Richard Ross, R-Wrentham, took their vote a step further. Ross declined to accept the raise, stating he could not take it knowing the state was in a serious budget crunch. Noble gesture, smart political move, or both? You be the judge.
Like the overwhelming majority of legislators, Poirier accepted the raise that she voted against. And frankly, I have no issue with that. Some lawmakers have other businesses that provide them additional revenue, but many do not. For them, being a rep or a senator is their major source of income.
To turn down an extra $20,000 per year would be very difficult. If I was in that situation, I would do as Rep. Poirier and the vast majority of her Republican brethren did - take the money I voted against and say thank you.
But if asked about it, I would pretty much stick with that straightforward and honest answer. I would not create a bunch of nonsensical, illogical reasons why I accepted the extra income that would make it look like I wanted to have things both ways.
And that is what Rep. Poirier has done.
When asked why she took the raise after opposing it, Poirier replied that refusing the increase would not help the state budget because the money would remain in the legislative account and not revert to the general fund. She said there is "no benefit to leaving it there."
Really? You mean spending it is better than not spending it? Interesting philosophy.
She went on to say the raise will allow her to give more to charity, an explanation previously used by Rep. Steven Howitt, R-Seekonk, a few years back to explain taking "per diem" funds available to legislators. It sounded pretty silly then, and sounds even sillier now.
Then she topped off her reasoning by saying since Democrats were taking the raise, she should also. And that had merit - right up until she added, "I don't want to feel like I'm a second class citizens to my colleagues on the other side of the aisle."
No doubt taxpayers in her district are happy to contribute toward an extra 20 grand so Rep. Poirier can feel better about herself compared to her Democratic leadership counterparts. That's what is really important here, right?
The raises were passed, and the legislators are legally entitled to them. But it would be better if leaders like Poirier left it at that, and didn't rub salt in the wounds by creating lame excuses.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at email@example.com and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.