Pay bump for lawmakers a political consideration this year

State lawmakers are in line for a pay raise this year, and that includes the Dorchester delegation.

Thanks to a voter-approved amendment to the state constitution, lawmakers receive pay hikes every two years. The governor is tasked with deciding how much of a raise lawmakers will receive and the governor's Executive Office of Administration and Finance is due to issue its calculation of the raise this week.

While their Republican colleagues have called for a one-year freeze on any salary increase because of the stagnant economy, local lawmakers this week defended the coming pay bump.

"People don't stop calling you when you leave here," said Rep. Willie Mae Allen, sitting in her office in the Committee on Election Laws. "It's like a round-the-clock job. I don't see anything wrong with accepting a raise."

Allen added: "We're not running amok with the funds. We're definitely underpaid."

Lawmakers currently earn $58,237.15 in base pay, while chairmen, appointed by the House speaker and the Senate president, earn an additional $7,500 to $15,000, depending on the committee they head. The House speaker and the Senate president each receive an extra $35,000.

Five of the eight lawmakers in the all-Democratic Dorchester delegation hold a chairmanship or vice chairmanship. Some vice-chairs received extra compensation in the form of stipends.

Sen. Jack Hart, chair of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, said he was unsure whether he'd accept a pay raise. "I haven't really thought about it," he said. "I am concerned about the fiscal climate."

Hart said that he and other senators didn't accept a pay bump four years ago, when the state was recovering from a similar fiscal crisis. The money was put into the state's general account.

Health care premiums were also boosted, he said, resulting in a double-pay cut for lawmakers. State lawmakers make on average about $40,000 less than the Boston City Council, he added.

Asked about a pay raise, Rep. Marie St. Fleur, vice chair of the powerful House Committee of Ways and Means, said she'll have to see how the calculation turns out. But, she added, "I'm a kid from Uphams Corner, okay?"

Other lawmakers with leadership positions include Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry, vice chair of the House Committee on Public Service; Rep. Gloria Fox, vice chair of the House Committee on Rules; and Rep. Marty Walsh, vice chair of the House Committee on Municipalities.

Forry said if the governor makes a "thoughtful" decision, "I will accept the pay raise."

"The governor has a decision to make in terms of deciding the amount, but I do believe due to the fiscal situation he'll be thoughtful," she said.

Walsh said he didn't agree with tying the pay hike to the increases in the state's median household income, but "the voters voted on it" in 1998 and it went into effect in 2001.

Under Gov. Mitt Romney in early 2007, lawmakers saw a 4.8 percent pay hike.

In 2007, Massachusetts's median household income was $62,365, up 4 percent from 2006, according to Census data.

"I'd be happy to take it," Rep. Brian Wallace said.

Wallace and Allen do not hold any chairmanships or vice chairmanships.

Fox did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, who replaces Sen. Dianne Wilkerson and is in the process of moving into her new digs at the State House, said she had not yet given a pay hike any thought. As an incoming senator, she has not been publicly appointed to a committee yet.

Committee appointments are subject to change at the start of the legislative session, with departures usually opening up slots on various panels.

Material from State House News Service was used in this report.