By Bob Katzen
This week, Beacon Hill Roll Call examines the salaries and other benefits received by local state senators and representatives.
The current base salary for legislators is $62,547. Their salary is up for adjustment in January every two years, either up or down, under a 1998 constitutional amendment approved by a better than 2-to-1 margin by voters. It requires that every two years the salaries of the governor, the other five constitutional statewide officers and the House speaker and Senate president be increased or decreased based on data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) that measures the quarterly change in salaries and wages.
It also requires that the same formula be used every two years to increase or decrease the stipends that 139 out of 200 legislators receive for their service in Democratic or Republican leadership positions.
Legislators' salaries were increased by $2,515 for the 2017-2018 legislative session. That hike came on the heels of a salary freeze for the 2015-2016 legislative session, a $1,100 pay cut for the 2013-2014 session, and a $306 pay cut for the 2011-2012 session. Prior to 2011, legislators' salaries had been raised every two years since the $46,410 base pay was first raised under the constitutional amendment in 2001.
The new $62,547 salary means legislative salaries have been raised $16,137, or 34.
* Extra pay for 139 legislators
House Speaker Robert DeLeo (D-Winthrop) and Senate President Karen Spilka (D-Ashland) both are entitled to an additional $80,000, bringing their full salary to $142,547.
The Legislature's two Republican leaders, Sen. Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester) and Rep. Bradley Jones (R-North Reading) are both entitled to an additional $60,000, bringing their full salary to $122,547. Tarr accepted only $22,500 (he declined $37,500) and his total 2018 salary is $85,047.
Over the past several years, the Legislature has increased the total number of legislators who receive annual stipends for their service in Democratic or Republican leadership positions, as committee chairs or vice chairs and as the ranking Republican on some committees.
Many stipends were increased in January 2017 and now range from $5,200 to $75,000 above the member's annual base salary.
The latest figures show that 139, or more than two-thirds of the state's 200 legislators, receive a stipend. All 40 senators and 99 of the 160 representatives receive bonuses.
* $15,000 or $20,000 for general expenses -- Each legislator receives an annual general expense allowance of $15,000 for members whose districts are within a 50-mile radius of the Statehouse and $20,000 for districts located outside of that radius.
This separate, flat rate expense allowance is designed to pay for some of the costs of legislators' district offices and other expenses including contributions to local civic groups and the printing and mailing of newsletters.
Legislators are issued a 1099 tax form from the state and are required to report the $15,000 or $20,000 as income but are not required to submit an accounting of how they spend it.
* Parking space -- Lawmakers are entitled to a parking space inside the Statehouse garage or at the nearby McCormack State Office Building. The first $260 in monthly value of the space is a tax-free benefit under federal and state guidelines that apply to all public and private employees, not just state legislators.
Any value of the space above this amount is treated as taxable income.
The value of the parking spaces in 2018 was determined by the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance to be $421 per month.
Based on that figure, legislators would be taxed on the excess $161 monthly by the Internal Revenue Service and the state.
* Health insurance -- Legislators are eligible to choose from 11 health insurance plans offered by the state's Group Insurance Commission, which manages the plans for over 425,000 individuals -- current and retired state and certain municipal workers and their dependents.
Total monthly full-cost premiums for family plans range from $1,006.15 to $2,224.74, with the employee share of the premium ranging from $247.74 to $668.36 effective July 1, 2018. Individual plans are available from $500.41 to $1,232.21 with the employee share of the premium ranging from $101.38 to $301.72. Lawmakers elected on or before July 1, 2003, pay 20 percent of the premium and the state pays 80 percent. Those elected to their first term on or after July 1, 2003, pay 25 percent while the state picks up only 75 percent.
* Life insurance -- Legislators who purchase a health insurance policy from the state are also required to buy the state's basic $5,000 life insurance policy. This costs employees $1.30 to $1.63 per month, depending on the date of hire. Legislators also have the option to buy additional life insurance with a value of up to eight times their salary. The entire premium for the optional insurance is paid by legislators.
* Long-term disability and health care spending account -- Legislators also have the option to open a Health Care Spending Account (HCSA) and Dependent Care Assistance Program (DCAP), and to buy long-term disability insurance. The HCSA allows legislators to set aside funds to pay for out-of-pocket health care expenses with before-tax dollars while the DCAP allows them to set aside funds to pay for certain dependent care expenses with before-tax dollars. This participation reduces their federal and state income taxes. The entire premium for long-term disability is paid by legislators.
* Dental and vision insurance -- Legislators are eligible to choose one of two dental/vision insurance plans. Current monthly employee premium costs for family plans range from $14.25 to $19.11, while individual plans range from $4.59 to $6.16. All lawmakers pay 15 percent of the premium and the state pays 85 percent.
* Some legislators pay little or no federal tax on their legislative salary -- Legislators who live more than 50 miles from the Statehouse are eligible for a special federal tax break. A 1981 federal law allows them to write off a daily expense allowance when filing their federal income tax return. The complicated system determines a daily amount, ostensibly for meals, lodging and other expenses incurred in the course of their jobs, which can be deducted for every "legislative day."
Under the Massachusetts Legislature's system and schedule, every day of the year qualifies as a legislative day. The Legislature does not formally "prorogue" (end an annual session) until the next annual session begins. This allows legislators to take the deduction for all 365 days regardless of whether the Legislature is actually meeting or not. Legislators do not even have to travel to the Statehouse to qualify for the daily deduction.
2018 salary of local legislators
Here is how much local legislators will be paid for the calendar year 2018, including salary and stipends: Rep. Jennifer Benson, $92,547; Rep. Sheila Harrington, $77,547; Sen. James Eldridge, $97,747; Sen. Dean Tran, $77,432.
2018 expense allowance
Here is how much local legislators receive as an annual general expense allowance of $15,000 for members whose districts are within a 50-mile radius of the Statehouse and $20,000 for districts located outside of that radius.
Rep. Jennifer Benson, $15,000; Rep. Sheila Harrington, $15,000; Sen. James Eldridge, $15,000; Sen. Dean Tran, $15,000.