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Romney says he'll forgo salary as governor

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 1 2003 9:48 a.m. MST

Mitt Romney and Kerry Healey said Tuesday they will decline their salaries as governor and lieutenant governor of Massachusetts for all four years of their administration — a move they hope sets the tone for public service and sacrifice as the state confronts difficult financial times.

The promise, with no known precedent in Massachusetts, will save the state $255,000 a year. Romney, who takes office Thursday, said the state can use some of the savings to increase the salaries of top aides.

"We face huge challenges in the coming year that require sacrifices of us all," Romney said in a statement Tuesday. "This is a symbolic move that we hope sets the appropriate tone and which demonstrates our strong commitment to public service."

Romney made a similar symbolic move as CEO of the Winter Olympics last year when he said he would only accept a salary for that effort if the Games were financially successful. Even though there was a budget surplus, Romney said in April he would donate all of his $285,000 annual salary to various charities.

Romney had previously said he was having difficulty attracting private-sector talent to work in state government. His spokesman said Tuesday that two of his picks will also forgo salaries. Robert Pozen, the newly named chief of commerce and labor, will also waive pay. Education adviser Peter Nessen will work for $1 a year, but he has not yet decided if he will take a salary after his position is elevated to Cabinet status.

While he is waiving his own pay, Romney has increased the pay for several positions — including two to be filled by key campaign advisers — well above the $130,000 top salary in Acting Governor Jane Swift's office. Three members of Romney's senior staff are slated to earn $150,000. They are Eric Fehrnstrom, his campaign spokesman, who is becoming communications director; Cindy Gillespie, a campaign adviser who will be chief of legislative and intergovernmental affairs; and Doug Foy, the outgoing head of the Conservation Law Foundation, whom Romney recruited for the new post of chief of commonwealth development.

Romney is pledging to stay within the current appropriation for staffing the governor's office — $5.2 million — though he hopes to trim that in future years, Fehrnstrom said. It is not clear how Romney's payroll will compare with Swift's because Romney is creating some new jobs, eliminating others, and moving others to department payrolls. Romney will not hire a chief secretary, a $117,500 position used by previous governors to fill patronage jobs.

Cabinet secretaries' salaries are paid by the departments they head, not from the governor's office account.

The savings from the decisions of the top Romney officials to decline salaries are a tiny fraction of the state budget, but underscore Romney's determination as he takes over the corner office to strike a theme: The old ways must be reexamined and all spending is open to review.

As the top administrators forgo salaries, however, the Legislature is scheduled for a pay increase, the result of a 1998 constitutional amendment that adjusts their pay every other year to keep pace with household income. But the governor must determine the percentage increase, and Fehrnstrom said Tuesday that Romney had not yet taken a position.

"By not taking a salary, Mitt and Kerry are not sending a message that other people should follow their lead," Fehrnstrom said. "This is a personal decision made by both of them and is not meant to set an example for other elected officials. And it's not meant to etablish a precedent that would bind other governors."

Romney and Healey are both multimillionaires who poured significant personal resources into their campaign for office. Romney spent $6.1 million while Healey spent $1.8 million. That clouds their symbolic gesture, said George Pillsbury, director of the Massachusetts Money and Politics Project.

"It's just not an option for a lot of people or even state legislators," he said. "We saw a campaign when they broke all kinds of records on their spending. Maybe he should have put $6 million into one of the budget items he's going to cut."

Romney still plans to fill two agency director positions — for economic development and labor — and intends to transfer responsibilities for homeland security to the public safety secretary.

Healey had made no earlier promises, but she said Tuesday that the decision was made so that she and Romney could recruit the best candidates.

"Because we're facing a fiscal crisis, we don't want our desire to have the best possible team in place to cause an additional burden to the taxpayers," she said in a statement.

Barbara Anderson, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation and Government, praised the move by the incoming administration as evidence of "character and common sense."

"I don't think that it should make people who aren't independently wealthy feel bad, should there be a governor in the future who would not be able to do that," Anderson said. "But it's nice for people in this situation to not only help save the Commonwealth money, but to make it easier to pay Cabinet secretaries more, which I think is a valid concern."


Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at ebbert@globe.com.

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