Friday, March 13, 2009

DiMasi/DeLeo twins?

What was a bad week for Salvatore F. DiMasi when he resigned as House speaker turned out to be a great week for a dozen House staff members, who got raises and promotions on DiMasi's way out the door.

On his second to last day in office in January, DiMasi boosted the pay of 10 House employees, including his driver, Daniel Petrigno, whom he made a court officer, one of a cadre of uniformed men and women whose primary responsibility is keeping order in the House.

He gave thousands of dollars in raises to two other court officers and to staff members working for favored committee chairman. The pay increases ranged from 4 to 66 percent and cost $65,000.

That tally increased when his successor, Representative Robert A. DeLeo, assumed office the same week and immediately gave his entire staff raises, some as high as 56 percent. In the following weeks, he hiked the pay of several staff members working for his new leadership team.

It is not unprecedented for a new speaker to give raises to his staff members, to reflect their new responsibilities, nor is it routine. But some questioned whether it was appropriate for an outgoing speaker to be so generous, especially given the ethical cloud hanging over DiMasi when he left, or for any raises to be given at all, in such grim economic times.

"Now is clearly not the time for us in government to be seeking pay raises, " said Representative Karyn Polito, Republican of Shrewsbury. "I'm hearing daily from individuals and families who are suffering more than ever. It is incumbent upon government officials to demonstrate a connection to our constituents. We may need to consider salary freezes, hiring freezes, and furloughs as a way to balance our budget during this crisis."

DeLeo spokesman Seth Gitell defended the raises for aides of the new speaker and the new leadership team, saying in an e-mailed statement that they "reflect entirely new jobs and expanded responsibilities." He said the total amount paid to staff in the speaker's office and House Ways and Means Committee is less than that of their predecessors.

Combined with increases DiMasi gave out in spurts over the past year, the two House speakers bumped staff pay more than $900,000 over the past 11 months as the national economy began a precipitous decline and the state confronted an ever greater deficit.

DiMasi could not be reached for comment.

Many of the increases in staff salaries were made as lawmakers themselves were receiving an automatic 5 percent pay raise in January that added more than $500,000 to the House payroll. Just 17 out of 160 representatives, including Polito, declined the raises, citing the weak economy and the financial struggles of their constituents.Continued...

DeLeo was not among those 17.

In his last days in office, DiMasi gave raises to aides of Representative Joseph F. Wagner, Democrat of Chicopee, and Representative John J. Binienda, Democrat of Worcester, according to payroll records. They are chairmen of the transportation and revenue committees. He also increased the hours and pay of an aide to Representative Richard J.Ross, Republican of Wrentham, whose last-minute switch on Governor Deval Patrick's casino plan helped ensure its defeat in committee last year. DiMasi was the proposal's most ardent foe.

He also found a job for defeated Gloucester representative Anthony J. Verga, who started working as a $40,000-a-year senior administrative aide in the House clerk's office on Jan. 7. DiMasi attempted to add a carpenter to the House payroll, according to one legislative official, but was thwarted by DeLeo, who halted the hiring before the man's paperwork was complete.

DiMasi gave a promotion and 3.7 percent raise to his driver, Petrigno, making him a $38,500-a-year court officer.

The House speaker has absolute authority to hire, promote, or grant pay raises. In 2008 DiMasi used that power to reward some and ignore others, handing out more than $700,000 in raises and promotions. In July, DiMasi gave his 19-member staff 6 percent raises. Deputy communications director Victoria Bonney, whose duties expanded last summer, saw her pay jump 35 percent. DiMasi also gave 6 percent raises to the 24 employees of the House human resources department, the House clerk's office, and House counsel's office.

Those employees had last received raises in 2007.

In September, DiMasi gave 3 percent raises to all other lawmakers' staff members and the 17 House court officers. For about two dozen aides, that bump came on top of raises of varying amounts they received earlier in the year, according to payroll records.

In the last few months of his speakership, DiMasi gave out another batch of raises, mostly to aides of his committee chairmen. Conspicuously missing from the list are aides to legislators backing Representative John H. Rogers, then the majority leader, who was battling DeLeo to succeed DiMasi. DeLeo was thought to be DiMasi's choice.

Binienda and Wagner said their ties to DiMasi had nothing to do with the promotions or raises their aides received in DiMasi's final days in office.

Binienda, the former Revenue Committee chairman, said he lost an aide last year and was not permitted to replace him. Because other staff members had to take up the slack, they received increases, he said.

"The hardest thing about being a chairman is keeping your staff happy," said Binienda, who now chairs the Rules Committee.

Wagner said the small raises his aides received were more than offset by cuts he made in other parts of his office budget.

"I'm not sure how many legislators offered to cut staff in response to things happening here economically," Wagner said. "I made that offer. In view of all I did on that front, these [pay raises] were very reasonable."

But Representative Daniel E. Bosley, Democrat of North Adams and one of DiMasi's closest allies, said he specifically did not ask for staff raises, though his employees deserved them.

"We're in fiscal crisis," said Bosley, who chaired the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies. "We were down two people and didn't ask for permission to hire because we were in a fiscal crisis. My kids were working 12 or 14 hours a day. I would have loved to have given them something, but I chose not to do that."

Since his resignation, DiMasi too has been collecting checks compliments of the Commonwealth. Last month he started receiving a state pension of just under $60,000 a year, according to the State Retirement Board. The benefit is based on 33 years and three months of service. He received credit for a full year of service in 2009, even though he resigned in January.


At March 13, 2009 at 1:46 PM , Blogger Jerry G. said...

Hello. Raises of 66%, 55% when we are asking unions to give up the 3-5% raises they have already contracted to get? This is a perfect sign of why MA is so bad. Isn’t there some process that these raises must go through for approval other than the Speaker of the House saying they should get raises? Is no one accountable? Why can’t we get our reps up there to protest these types of things, and stop them from happening?

At March 13, 2009 at 2:42 PM , Blogger concerned voter said...

Shouldn’t this heading be Evil Twins? This is just another example of MA politicians thinking that nothing that applies to anyone else applies to them. Their constituents are losting their jobs and their homes, and they are raising the salaries of the people who serve them. How about doing something about the salaries of the people who pay them, those people being us?

At March 13, 2009 at 2:45 PM , Blogger Jim Pillsbury said...


I share your outrage...

Keep in mind, our Reps had voted him in as Speaker and almost everything he does, is under the noses of the reps... so, could they have objected, sure they could if they had any stones, but as you can see from when Deleo came on board, those who challenge the status quo, get offices in the basement.

It will take replacing 120 Reps and half the senate in 2010 to change anything on the Hill. Until then, we have to stay informed and remember all of this crap for next election. None of our reps here would ever think to take a stand... they have no courage or ethics.

At March 13, 2009 at 3:02 PM , Blogger Eric said...

Did any of you ever take a math course? If you did, you can add these amounts up an realize that for a state that is supposedly in fiscal crisis, we are spending an awful lot of money increasing the salaries of the useless people on the state’s payroll. If we were really all that broke, where exactly would the money for these raises be coming from? The figures just don’t add up people. We are in a deficit everywhere except in the pot that holds money for state house salaries? Well, I say all the money goes in the same pot, and if there is a whole lot extra there, it can pay off the shortfall that seems to exist everywhere else. Governor Patrick needs a new calculator, or he needs to stop lying about how we are broke. Lets take the money that pays for these new positions at just exhorbitant salaries, add it to the raises paid be DeMasi and Dileo and take all this money for raises and new positions away from these people, and use it for Mass Turnpike to pay their shortfall, and eliminate the toll increases. What they heck, money is money, right?

At March 13, 2009 at 4:19 PM , Blogger Old soldier said...

I think I have really burned out about all this garbage going on here in MA politics. Use to be I would be appalled, no I am not even surprised by it. Apathy has set in, which is what I think has happened to many of us here in MA. You can only smash your head against the wall so many times before you realize it hurts. I am done with this. Time to move to my little cabin in NH and ignore the idiots here in the democratic republic of MA. I’m retired, but only 66, still lots of years left in me. I just don’t see anything getting cleaned up around this state for even more years than I have left, so can’t fight them, sure don’t want to join them, so I am going to leave the game. Good luck to all of you stuck here. Hope someday enough of you get fed up that you actually change something around here.

At March 13, 2009 at 4:38 PM , Blogger 50 stud said...

Those of us who can’t leave the way Old Soldier is should be paying close attention to the goings on at the State House. Remember, when election time comes around, they will all be on their best behavior, hoping that we judge them on what they did for the few months before election time, and not on what they have done since being elected. Next time, remember what they are doing now, and have been doing for as long as most of us can remember, and don’t give them the one thing they need to keep doing this, your vote. I would vote for Joe the Plumber at this point over any one of them, although I am hoping there will options other than that! (hint, hint) Hope more of you who feel the same way use that vote on the next election day to make a change.

At March 13, 2009 at 5:02 PM , Blogger Friend said...

Another week, another story on MA political corruption. I think if you are a politician in MA, then corruption has to be your middle name, why else would you run for office? But the corruption is pretty well paid, so they just keep on doing it, and you know what, they will continue getting away with it because no one ever holds them accountable. My mother use to always say don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. In this case, I think they both have to go!

At March 13, 2009 at 5:35 PM , Blogger Rich said...

I say we kick them all to the curb and take over the Statehouse. Anyone with me on that? Hell, my 10 year old could do a better job than these guys are doing, and he would do it for his allowance, which is $2 a week. That is actually more than any of these idiots deserve.


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