By Bob Katzen
THE HOUSE AND SENATE. There were no roll-call votes in the House or Senate last week. This week, Beacon Hill Roll Call examines the salaries and other benefits received by the 40 state senators:
* $3,203 PAY HIKE FOR LEGISLATORS. Legislators received a pay raise of $3,203, or 4.8 percent, from $58,236 to $61,439 beginning in January 2009. The hike was required under terms of a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 1998.
* BONUS PAY FOR ALL 40 SENATORS. Over the past few years, the Legislature has increased the total number of legislators who receive annual bonus stipends of $7,500 to $35,000, beyond their annual base salary. All 40 senators receive bonus pay for their service in Democratic or Republican leadership positions, as committee chairs or vice chairs and as the ranking Republican on some committees.
* PER DIEMS. Legislators are entitled to collect “per diems” to reimburse them for mileage, meals and lodging expenses for travel from their “place of residence to the Statehouse and return there from, while in the performance of their official duties.” The amount of the per diem varies based on the city or town in which a legislator resides and its distance from the Statehouse. Bay State senators in 2009 so far have received a total of $51,685 in per diems that range from $410 to $7,470 for individual members.
* $7,200 FOR GENERAL EXPENSES. Each legislator receives a $7,200 annual general expense allowance. The Legislature in 2000 doubled this allowance from $3,600 to $7,200. This separate, flat-rate expense is designed to pay for some of the costs of legislators’ Statehouse and district offices and to pay for other expenses including contributions to local civic groups and the printing and mailing of newsletters. Legislators are issued a 1099 from the state and are required to report the $7,200 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. Some of the value of the space is a tax-free benefit under federal and state tax guidelines that apply to all public and private employees — not just legislators. The first $205 in monthly value of the space under 2009 federal and state regulations is tax-free. Any value of the space above those amounts is treated as income and legislators are required to pay taxes on it. The value of the parking spaces in 2009 was determined by the Bureau of State Buildings to be $394 per month. Based on that figure, legislators would be taxed on the excess $189 monthly by the Internal Revenue Service and the state.
* HEALTH INSURANCE. Legislators are eligible to choose from nine health-insurance plans offered by the state’s Group Insurance Commission, which manages plans for 330,000 current and retired state and municipal workers, their families and dependents. Monthly premiums for family plans range from $971 to $1,786 while individual plans are available from $404 to $755. Lawmakers elected prior to June 30, 1993, pay 20 percent of the premium and the state pays 80 percent. Legislators elected to their first term after June 30, 2003, pay 25 percent while the state picks up 75 percent. State and federal privacy regulations protect this information and it is not possible to obtain records about which plans individual legislators have purchased.
* LIFE INSURANCE. Legislators who purchase a regular health-insurance policy from the state are also required to buy the state’s basic $5,000 life-insurance policy. The policy costs $6.85 per month. Lawmakers elected after June 30, 2003, pay 25 percent of the premium and the state pays 75 percent. Legislators elected to their first term before June 30, 2003 pay 20 percent while the state picks up 80 percent. 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 to buy long-term disability insurance. The HCSA allows legislators to pay for out-of-pocket health care expenses with pre-tax money and reduces their federal and state income taxes. The entire premium for both of these optional plans is paid by legislators.
* DENTAL AND VISION INSURANCE. Legislators are eligible to choose one of two dental/vision insurance plans. Monthly premiums for family plans range from $79 to $111 while individual plans range from $25 to $36. Lawmakers pay 15 percent of the premium and the state pays 85 percent.
* SOME LEGISLATORS DO NOT PAY FEDERAL TAXES 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 these state legislators to write off a daily expense allowance when filing their federal income-tax returns. 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 qualifies as a legislative day. This allows legislators to take the deduction for all 365 days regardless of whether the Legislature is actually meeting. Legislators do not even have to travel to the Statehouse to qualify for the daily deduction.
HOW MUCH WILL YOUR SENATOR BE PAID IN 2009?
The dollar figure next to the senator’s name represents the amount of compensation that he or she will be paid in 2009. The amount includes the base salary of $61,439; leadership stipends ranging from $7,500 to $35,000; $7,200 for general expenses and any per-diem money that the state has already paid the legislator through Aug. 24. Twenty senators have so far taken per diems. The dollar figures will increase between now and the end of December for legislators who take additional per diems over the remaining four months of the legislative session.
The senator with the highest compensation so far is Senate President Therese Murray who earns $103,639. Rounding out the top five are Sens. Steve Panagiotakos, D-Lowell, $95,719; Frederick Berry, D-Peabody, $92,219; Benjamin Downing, D-Pittsfield, $91,379; and Richard Tisei, R-Wakefield, $91,139.
* Sen. Kenneth Donnelly, $76,139
* Sen. James Eldridge, $78,895
* Sen. Susan Fargo, $76,139
* Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, $78,443
* Sen. Steve Panagiotakos, $95,719
* Sen. Bruce Tarr, $83,639
* Sen. Susan Tucker, $77,345
HOW LONG WAS LAST WEEK’S SESSION? During the week of Sept. 7-11, the House met for a total of 51 minutes while the Senate met for a total of 25 minutes.
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at email@example.com