I Earned It–-and, I Kept It

Legislators were told that their decisions would be confidential. But, the press went to the State Treasurer’s Office and got the information under the Freedom of Information Act.

"Four lawmakers reject furloughs; Unpaid days meant to help state close large budget gap" was the headline on the original Associated Press story.

Yes, I thought my decision was private. But, I’m not at all embarrassed to have it made public.

I was one of the original four cited by the press and, in the final tally, one of only a handful–16 out of 160 Representatives–to reject the salary furlough suggested by the Speaker of the House Tom Finneran.

Finneran asked House members to forgo their salaries for 8 days, worth about $1,800, to show solidarity with people having difficult financial times during the recession and other state employees who might lose their jobs. He wanted us to "share the pain."

Instead of $1,800, I chose to save the Commonwealth about $35,000 by not replacing my Chief of Staff who transferred to another office in anticipation of my departure at the end of the year and by not having a summer intern.

Chip Faulkner of Citizens for Limited Taxation's called me, and others who rejected the furlough, "card carrying hypocrites"--``Liberals always willing to spend other people's money, but not their own.'' (Note, please: it’s not often that I’ve been called a liberal!)

Taking a week’s pay isn’t a serious response to the dire fiscal situation in Massachusetts. And hardly an effectual way to decrease the budget deficit.

Each House member earns a base salary of $50,123 for about 220 official working days. The eight-day furlough would cost each legislator about $1,800, with members of the leadership paying more. Finneran, for example, earns $86,000, and would forfeit $3,132. The total savings, if all 160 House members accepted the furlough, would top $300,000.

I figured if all 160 Representatives declined interns (eight weeks at $350 a week) savings would be even more–almost $450,000.

If we're going to make cuts, let's make cuts and do so in the fairest way possible. If we need to look at new revenue sources, let's do that. And we’ll be doing both in the next two weeks in the House. This coming week, we’ll vote on sources of additional revenue–cigaret taxes, capital gains, and charitable contributions, being the most likely, along with a freeze on the state’s income tax.

If we're going to cut legislators' salaries let's be open about it. Of course, I don't think we should--legislators have families, mortgages, tuition payments, and all the expenses of everyone else, but many of us work for less money than we could earn in the public sector.

If we're going to change salaries let's set that up for the next term so members know what to expect.

Other representatives from Western Mass who didn’t participate in the plan included Steve Kulik of Worthington, Ellen Story of Amherst, Paul Caron of Springfield, Chris Hodgkins of Lee.

My cohorts who decided to keep their salary gave various reasons.

Jay Kaufman of Lexington said simply, "I can’t afford it."

Others promised to take the money and distribute it in their own communities. Which, most of us do anyway. (The flag on the green, the pancake breakfast, sponsorship of a Little League team, the Boys and Girls Club are included on my list.)

Finneran’s dissidents, for example, called it a blatant public relations ploy, an empty gesture that will not help solve the state's budget crisis. ''It's a gimmick. It does not in any way pose a solution to the very serious problem we are confronting,'' Rep. Ruth Balser said. Balser, who is a psychologist and a single mother of two, also pointed out that she could earn a lot more money in the public sector.

Others who declined the furlough just plain declared it "a stupid idea."

And, of course, politics abounds with stupid ideas.

Stupid ideas like selling office furniture that no one wants or seizing state cars to pay for so-called Clean Elections. When the guy who gets the most of the money–three quarters of a million dollars so far–probably won’t even make the ballot.

Now, that’s a really stupid way to spend state money.

I will spend my own. Wisely, I hope.

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