The Bill Linehan and Steve Murphy Pension-Padding Act of 2014
Surprisingly, City Council president Bill Linehan and councilor Steve Murphy have not provided me an answer to my question of how their proposed self-raises would affect their pensions.
So I’m not entirely certain, but I believe it would give each of them somewhere in the neighborhood of an extra $16,000 a year from the public teat for the remainder of their days, if they stick around for three more years under the new salary—it would have been more like $20,000, but public pressure forced them to drop the amount of the ask a little bit.
The council voted Wednesday, 9 to 4, in favor of raising their own salaries from $87,500 a year to $107,500. Mayor Marty Walsh has threatened to veto.
Now, I’m a big believer in compensating public servants well enough to attract and maintain decent public servants, preferably better ones than those currently serving. So I can at least commend the nine “yea” voters for recognizing that they are cheap, knock-off, discount versions of what we would prefer to see in that chamber.
But the mostly purposeless City Council, whose members have often found plenty of time for second jobs outside City Hall, needs no more than an incremental salary boost.
And certainly, the current councilors shouldn’t vote themselves a huge raise to kick in immediately; they should enact any raise to start after the next election, and preferably to phase in incrementally from there.
But the council, and Linehan in particular, were especially eager to implement the entire, great big raise right away. Only after being assured that it was almost certainly illegal did they back away and agree to have the new rates kick in with the next term, in January 2016.
That battle-within-the-battle was the big tell.
There’s a rule of thumb in Boston and Massachusetts politics: If you can’t understand why politicians are doing something, check for A) a longstanding feud originating with somebody’s family member on an entirely unrelated matter; or B) how it affects their pension.
In this case, it’s explanation B. Boston city pensions are capped at 80 percent of the employee’s average salary for their three highest-earning consecutive years. It’s a notoriously abused final-three-years rule; if you can somehow convince someone to put you into a high-paying position three years before you retire, you boost your pension for life.
If the new salary goes into effect immediately, as Linehan wanted, then the councilors would have three years at the new rate by the end of 2017—which is to say, the end of their next two-year term. So, to the extent that they are pension-vested by then, they would only need to get re-elected once, next year, and coast to a happy, wealthy retirement.
Linehan, who has worked for the city in various capacities I think since the Lion’s Head time capsule was sealed, presumably is at or near his maximum pension vesting, so this was going to allow a last one-and-done election for him. I assume that Charles Yancey, who voted in favor of the pay raise, is in the same position, if he happens to be in a retiring mood, although he was not pushing the bill the way Linehan did—and in particular, pushing the immediate implementation that Linehan initially demanded.
Murphy, although old enough to retire, is only partly vested; he has only worked for the City of Boston since he first got onto the City Council, in 1997.
Coincidentally, that means Murphy is in line to get a major 20th-year bump in his pension vesting in 2017, just as he would have accrued those three high-salary years. Perhaps “coincidentally” is not the word I’m looking for. “Avariciously,” maybe?
Councilor Sal LaMattina first started working at the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services in 1987, and he’s been working for the city, in one capacity or another, pretty much solidly since then. LaMattina did talk to me about it, and pointed out that he took a significant pay cut to become a city councilor eight years ago—and has not received a raise since then—so his top three salary years are from his days as Director of Operations at the city Department of Transportation. “I think the council did the right thing, waiting until 2016,” after the next election, for the raise to kick in, he told me.
I believe that the others who voted for the raise—Frank Baker, Mark Ciommo, Michael Flaherty, Tito Jackson, and Tim McCarthy—are all far enough from their 20-year mark with the city that the timing of the raise is probably not as relevant to their pensions.
Same goes for the four who voted against the raise: Matt O’Malley, Ayanna Pressley, Michelle Wu, and Josh Zakim. Although, it’s fair to point out that Wu could have obviated this entire problem by not helping Linehan ascend to the council presidency, a perch from which he can launch these idiotic, self-serving efforts.
One final point: I see that the Globe suggests that the 9-4 vote indicates that the council has the necessary two-thirds votes to override a mayoral veto. I am willing to wager a fairly substantial sum that, if Walsh does veto the bill, at least one of those nine “yeas” will have a change of heart before an override vote.