BOSTON (AP) — Boston City Council members kicked off a discussion Monday on possibly giving themselves each a $25,000 raise to bring their salaries more in line with their counterparts in New York and other major U.S. cities, even as questions arise over whether the proposal violates Massachusetts law.
The full-time council has not had a pay raise since 2006, and City Council President Bill Linehan, who introduced the proposal earlier in September, said it is long overdue.
The proposal calls for a nearly 29 percent pay hike, from $87,500 a year to $112,500 — roughly the same salary as council members in New York, the nation's most populous city with about 8.4 million residents. Boston has a population of about 645,000.
At a hearing on the proposal, Linehan defended its legal basis after a staff member of the city's law department testified that the proposal, as written, would violate state law.
Massachusetts ethics law prohibits government officials from voting on matters in which they or their families have a direct financial interest, and department lawyer Henry Luthin said the raises would only be permitted if they took effect January 2016, when a new council takes office.
Linehan challenged him on that point, suggesting the ethics law is in conflict with the state law that grants city and town councils the power to set mayor and council salaries.
A few council members argued a pay raise was necessary, while others said they couldn't support such a generous increase in pay. Many agreed the city needed to find a less politically-charged way of boosting council pay.
The council's government operations committee took no action on the measure, instead holding it for more study.
Boston City Council salaries already exceed those in other New England cities; only Cambridge councilors, who earn $73,362, come close, according to a 2013 Boston city survey. But few Massachusetts municipalities, like Boston, the state's largest city, have a full-time council.
Linehan's proposal would boost council salaries beyond those earned in a number of U.S. cities with populations between 625,000 and 650,000 residents, according to the survey. Among them are Nashville, Tennessee, at $15,000; Baltimore at $61,383 and Denver at $78,173.
Even some cities with far larger populations than Boston had lower council salaries in 2013 than the pay Linehan has proposed: Houston, $55,770; San Diego, $75,386; San Jose, California, $81,000; and San Francisco, $105,723.
At the hearing, the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, a nonpartisan group, urged council members to take a step back and address city worker pay, rather than pushing through their own salary increase.
And Boston resident Shirley Kressel suggested the council's current workload does not justify a raise. Unlike other city councils, the Boston council does not have jurisdiction over land use, planning and tax breaks for development projects. Those critical functions are reserved for the Boston Redevelopment Authority.
The state Ethics Commission declined to say Monday whether it has been asked to weigh in on the matter. Boston Mayor Martin Walsh also has not publicly weighed in, but has noted that he's not looking to boost his own $175,000 a year salary.