Yes, I know that most State House employees who just got a pay raise haven’t had one in years, and don’t make all that much money to begin with. It’s hard to begrudge someone making $35,000 a year a 3% pay raise when they haven’t had one since 2008. I also know that the money to fund the raises came out of the House budget, and therefore that it’s not obvious that cancelling the raises would make the money available for other purposes (at least, not without additional legislation).
And yet, they were a big mistake. They were a big mistake because of stories like this, among other things, from the Globe article linked above:
The latest raises — which the speaker and Senate president can grant at their own discretion — immediately stirred outrage among human services workers who were told by the governor just last month that their 2 percent raises had been frozen because of dwindling tax revenues and a potential shortfall in the state budget.
The 29,000 workers, who care for the homeless and developmentally disabled, had already begun to protest at the State House on Monday when they learned that legislative staff members had been granted the 3 percent hike.
The workers earn $25,000 a year, on average, and have gone without an increase since 2008.
“There’s no sense of a shared sacrifice here,” said Michael D. Weekes, president and chief executive of the Providers’ Council, which advocates for the workers. “Why are the lowest-paid people taking it on the chin?”
Yes, yes, like I said, I know that denying House staff raises would not necessarily make it possible to give human service workers raises because the money comes from different accounts, blah blah blah. Sorry, but nobody cares about that. What people care about is that poorly-paid people who do very important work taking care of vulnerable people aren’t getting a raise while people who work for Bob DeLeo are. Even worse, additional cuts and maybe tax increases for everyone appear to be on the horizon … yet DeLeo’s staff gets a raise.
It looks terrible. And appearances matter in politics. If people see House staffers getting a raise while human service workers don’t, and while their own taxes go up, they get mad, and their trust in the ability of Beacon Hill to raise itself above the Big Dig Culture is further eroded. And that, in turn, makes it much harder to sell the public on expensive things that really should be done – like finding the money to get the T out of debt, to make serious, badly-needed infrastructure investments, and so on.
That’s why the raises are a mistake and should frankly be rescinded. That’s also why the sales tax should go back to 5% – maybe not right now, given the state of things, but why it should absolutely be on the table. If people don’t trust their elected officials to mean what they say (e.g., when they say a tax hike is an emergency measure), to share sacrifice when sacrifice is called for, and to spend money sensibly, the big stuff will never get done. And that hurts everyone.