Big Earners Punctuate Wide Wage Gap In Legislature

Salary text written on wooden block with stacked coins

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BOSTON (State House News Service) - There's no surprise in which state representative and senator earned the most in 2022: House Speaker Ron Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka, the top Democrats through whom virtually every legislative decision flows.

Take a peek further down the list of highest-earning lawmakers and you'll see a recitation of the Democrats' leadership charts in either chamber, plus some high-ranking Republicans whose ranks have shrunk but continue to haul in hefty checks after voting against a new pay raise package six years ago.

Like every other elected member of the House and Senate, they each earned a base salary of $70,537 last year, but lucrative, automatically updating stipends that lawmakers approved in 2017 tacked on tens of thousands of additional dollars -- or in Mariano and Spilka's case, more than $100,000 more.

The speaker and Senate president are equals at the top, each bringing in a total of $178,473 in total compensation in 2022, according to public payroll data published online by the state comptroller.

More than half of Mariano and Spilka's official income came via stipends: they each received $17,042, which is an inflation-indexed amount to cover travel and other expenses, and $90,893 for serving as speaker or Senate president.

Similarly, number-two earners in both chambers hold parallel positions. House Ways and Means Committee Chair Aaron Michlewitz, a North End Democrat, earned $161,430 in total compensation last year, more than anyone in the House other than Mariano. And across the hall, Senate Ways and Means Committee Chair Michael Rodrigues, a Westport Democrat, brought in $173,019, pushed up in part by a slightly higher expenses stipend offered to lawmakers who travel 50 miles or more to reach the State House.

After that, the branches begin to diverge. With a total of $155,749 last year, Minority Leader Brad Jones was the third-highest-paid state representative. House Republicans also feature fifth (First Assistant Minority Leader Kimberly Ferguson with $133,026), sixth (Third Assistant Minority Leader Susan Gifford with $133,026) and tied for ninth (Second Assistant Minority Leader Paul Frost with $127,345) on that chamber's list of top earners.

In the Senate, which has only three Republicans out of 40 seats, the lone GOP name among the 10 highest-paid senators is Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, whose $155,749 in total compensation clocks in ninth.

All of those Republicans receiving sizable bonuses for their leadership posts voted against the 2017 pay raise bill, which significantly increased the value of stipends attached to committee and leadership posts, made several new stipends available and boosted salaries for constitutional officers. Democrats muscled the measure into law following a veto from Republican Gov. Charlie Baker.

The bottom of the legislative pay pyramid is far more crowded.

Excluding lawmakers who left partway through their terms, a total of 35 representatives tied for the lowest total compensation at $87,579.75 in 2022 -- slightly less than half what Mariano earned -- according to payroll records. That reflects the standard $70,537.22 salary, plus the inflation-adjusted $17,042.53 expenses and travel stipend offered to lawmakers who live within 50 miles of the State House.

Rank-and-file Republicans and Democrats featured on that list at the bottom last year, including Democrat Rep. Jack Lewis of Framingham, Democrat Rep. Joan Meschino of Hull, Republican Rep. Alyson Sullivan of Abington and Republican Rep. Marc Lombardo of Billerica.

Another 14 representatives made $93,260.59 in total pay in 2022, broken down into $70,537.22 in base pay plus a slightly higher expenses and travel stipend of $22,723.27 available for lawmakers who travel more than 50 miles to get to Beacon Hill. That includes people across the political spectrum, from progressive Democrat Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa of Northampton to independent Rep. Susannah Whipps of Athol to Republican Rep. Peter Durant of Spencer.

Six senators tied at the bottom of the rankings with $110,530.36 in total pay last year: Becca Rausch of Needham, Walter Timilty of Milton, Michael Brady of Brockton, John Cronin of Lunenburg, Edward Kennedy of Lowell and Diana DiZoglio of Methuen, who has since departed and won election as state auditor.

Although representatives and senators have the same statutory base pay, senators earn more because -- with a chamber of only 40 -- they each take on at least one higher-up committee or leadership role that carries a stipend.

The Legislature views itself as a full-time body, though each branch typically meets to conduct major business only once per week during a portion of the two-year term, and long periods of informal-only sessions with minimal action are common. Many lawmakers also supplement their official pay with outside income

Written By Chris Lisinski/SHNS

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