Battle Over Legislative Pay Hike Flares Anew

Jul 29, 2013

Thanks to a cost of living adjustment mandated by the state Constitution, 111 state lawmakers are entitled to get a $307 boost in their annual pay, bringing the yearly amount to $14,947. The pay hike is doubled for House Speaker Gordon Fox and Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, who get twice the salary of other lawmakers.

What all these means depends whom you ask.

The cost of living adjustment -- which has boosted lawmakers' salaries over the last decade from a starting point of $10,000 -- was part of a post-banking crisis voter-approved plan to shrink the General Assembly (from 100 reps to 75, and from 50 senators to 38). Benefits for legislators were tweaked as part of that overhaul.

Yet Monique Chartier of the conservative-leaning Rhode Island Taxpayers says the pay hike sends the wrong message at a time when many Rhode Islanders are still struggling:

“There are 50,000 Rhode Islanders who are unemployed, not counting those who have given up. They are not receiving a paycheck, but the General Assembly has increased their own paychecks. The fact that it is a comparatively small increase is irrelevant; it is the symbolism and the disconnect that is so troubling.”

Six of the 10 lawmakers to so far turn down the pay hike so far are Republicans: Representative Michael Chippendale of Foster; and Senators Dennis Algiere of Westerly; David Bates of Barrington; Dawson Hodgson of North Kingstown; Nicholas Kettle of Coventry; and Christopher Ottiano of Portsmouth. The list also includes three Senate Democrats (Marc Cote of Woonsocket; James Sheehan of North Kingstown; and Adam Satchell of West Warwick) and the one independent in the Senate, Edward O'Neill of Lincoln.

Satchell offered this explanation for turning down the pay raise:

“I just thought it was the right thing to do. I certainly didn’t run for office to make money – it certainly wasn’t a financial decision on my part. You know, there a lot of people who aren’t getting raises and haven’t gotten raises for a long time.”

If each of the non-Fox/Paiva Weed lawmakers rejected the pay hike, the savings would be about $34,000.