By Bob Katzen
THE HOUSE AND SENATE
There were no roll call votes in the House or Senate last week.
Beacon Hill Roll Call has obtained the 2012 official list from the state treasurer's office of the "per diem" travel, meals and lodging reimbursements collected by the Legislature's 40 state senators from Jan. 1, 2012 to Dec. 31, 2012. The list reveals that senators collected a total of $58,304.
Under state law, per diems are paid by the state to senators "for each day for travel from his place of residence to the Statehouse and return therefrom, while in the performance of his official duties, upon certification to the state treasurer that he was present at the Statehouse." These reimbursements are given to senators above and beyond their regular salaries.
The amount of the per diem varies and is based on the city or town in which a senator resides and its distance from the Statehouse. The Legislature in 2000 approved a law doubling these per diems to the current amounts. The payments range from $10 per day for senators who reside in the Greater Boston area to $90 per day for some Western Massachusetts lawmakers and $100 per day for those in Nantucket.
Supporters of the per diems say the system is fair and note the rising costs of travel, food and lodging. They note many legislators spend a lot of money on traveling to Boston and some spend the night in Boston following late sessions.
Some opponents argue most private sector and state workers are not paid additional money for commuting. Others say the very idea of paying any per diem is outrageous when thousands of workers have lost their jobs and homes, the state is in the midst of a recession, and funding for important programs has been cut.
The 2012 statistics indicate that 16 of the state's 40 senators have received reimbursements ranging from $1,040 to $9,630, while 24 senators have so far chosen not to apply for any money. State law does not establish a deadline that senators must meet in order to collect the per diems.
The senator who received the most per diem money in 2012 is Sen. Benjamin Downing, D-Pittsfield, with $9,630. Rounding out the top six and receiving more than $4,000 each were Sens. Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, $7,620; Michael Rodrigues, D-Westport, $6,030; Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, $4,472; James Welch, D-Springfield, $4,422; and Daniel Wolf, D-Harwich, $4,380.
SENATORS' 2012 PER DIEMS
The dollar figure next to the senator's name represents the total amount of per diem money the state paid him or her for 2012. The number in parentheses represents the number of days the senator certified he or she was at the Statehouse during that same period.
Sen. Eileen Donoghue: $0 (0 days)
Sen. James Eldridge: $0 (0 days)
Sen. Jennifer Flanagan: $3,672 (102 days)
ALSO ON BEACON HILL
$1.9 BILLION TAX HIKE: The big news coming out of Beacon Hill last week was Gov. Deval Patrick's tax package proposal that would raise the income tax from 5.25 percent to 6.25 percent to support education initiatives. Other provisions include reducing the sales tax from 6.25 percent to 4.5 percent and dedicating all of that revenue to a public works fund that will support transportation projects; doubling the personal exemptions; and eliminating a number of itemized deductions.
The governor defended the package as necessary to ensure there is a 21st century education and transportation network for this generation and the ones that follow.
Opponents said this is one of the biggest proposed tax hikes in the state's history and will hurt taxpayers who are already struggling during this recession and time of high unemployment.
PATRICK FILES GUN LEGISLATION: Gov. Patrick also made headlines when he filed legislation making several changes to the state's gun laws. Provisions require courts to transmit all relevant mental-health records for inclusion in a national registry that all states access before issuing gun licenses; close an existing loophole in order to require gun purchasers to undergo background checks at gun shows; limit the number of weapon sales by licensed dealers to not more than one per licensed individual a month; create tiered punishments for possessing different weapons on school property. The legislation also gives police the authority to arrest without a warrant in order to quickly defuse a dangerous situation on school property.
Patrick also proposed a 3 percent increase in funding for the Department of Mental Health including doubling the budget for crisis intervention training for law enforcement and other community-based first responders. The governor noted that trained responders can better recognize, de-escalate and intervene with individuals who are in emotional distress or suffering from a mental illness and divert them to treatment they need.
REP. APPLIES FOR NEW JOB ON ELECTION DAY: Rep. David Sullivan, D-Fall River, unopposed for re-election last November, applied for the job as executive director of the Fall River Housing Authority on Election Day as unwitting voters were voting to send him back to Beacon Hill. According to Martha Gallagher, executive office coordinator at the housing authority, Sullivan's application was received at 12:54 p.m. on Nov. 6. Sullivan, currently earning $60,032 as a legislator, was appointed to the authority last week. He will resign soon to begin the housing authority job, which pays $115,000, nearly double his legislative salary.
Special "Gov. Patrick $1.9 Billion Tax Hike" Edition
"Meeting those (transportation) needs demands new revenue ... This is the point in the speech when I knew silence would fall over the room."
"In the coming weeks, I will be looking to my fellow representatives, advocacy groups and members of the public to evaluate and help us digest the details and implications of the governor's plan."
House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop
"Having been swept into office on the promises of no new taxes and a decrease in property tax, the governor and lieutenant governor have instead championed three massive tax increases and stood by as the average property tax bill has increased by nearly $1,000."
House Republican Leader Bradley Jones, R-North Reading
"The devil's in the details and we're going to have to take a look and see what's in there."
Senate President Therese Murray, D-Plymouth
"We must first fund the spending commitments we have already made. And there is a difference between what we may want and what we can afford without jeopardizing household budgets and job creation."
Senate GOP Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester
"We enthusiastically applaud Gov. Patrick for proposing significant new investments in public education from early education through college. His plan rightly recognizes that an educated citizenry is our greatest natural resource and the engine of the Massachusetts economy."
Paul Toner, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association.
"Gov. Patrick is paving the road back to 'Taxachusetts' with his proposals. The people of our commonwealth are still waiting for their income taxes to be reduced to 5 percent, as they voted for over a decade ago. It's time for the governor to start listening to the people's wishes."
Rep. Ryan Fattman, R-Sutton
"I didn't see that sales tax cut coming. And I don't take it seriously now. This is a classic bait and switch. Gov. Patrick or some other devious future Democrat governor will be back to raise the sales tax rate again, as soon as it's obvious that the state still hasn't fixed the roads, bridges or MBTA debt."
Barbara Anderson, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation
HOW LONG WAS LAST WEEK'S SESSION? During the week of January 14-18, the House met for a total of three hours and 58 minutes while the Senate met for a total of two hours and 59 minutes.
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.