No plans for Baker to spend housing stipend on second home

Boston Statehouse

There will be no pied-a-terre in Boston for Gov. Charlie Baker. No western Massachusetts hideout, either.

The governor, who lives with his wife in their turn-of-the-20th century Swampscott home, has no plans to invest his new $65,000 housing stipend in a property or rent closer to the office, according to his staff.

The housing allowance is a first for a Massachusetts governor after the Legislature, in its first act of the two-year session in 2017, voted through a package of pay raises for public officials, including the governor, that included a stipend for housing.

The law states that a governor “shall receive $65,000 annually for expenses related to housing,” and the allowance was intended by lawmakers to make the office of governor a more attractive position and to eliminate any barriers to running, such as finances or geography.

For Baker, it will simply be added to his salary.

Baker rejected the housing allowance and a raise in 2017 and 2018 after his veto of the bill sent to him by House and Senate Democrats was overridden. The governor, however, said during his re-election campaign that he would accept the full pay package to start his second term, which included a bump in pay from $151,800 to $185,000.

“That’s what it is – if the voters are kind enough to give me a second term, I’ll just take it because that’s what it is,” Baker said during the final gubernatorial debate.

The Special Advisory Commission Regarding the Compensation of Public Officials in 2014 concluded that the governor “deserves and requires adequate housing” to perform his or her officials duties. That report became the foundation of the bill that House and Senate Democrats wrote to start the session in 2017.

In addition to the high cost of living in Boston, the commission noted that the governor lacks a property like the Parkman House, adjacent to the State House, that the mayor of Boston can use to entertain or conduct public business and ceremonial functions.

“The burden on a Governor from Western Massachusetts or someone with modest means is obvious and may be a deterrent to seeking office. By providing a housing allowance, Massachusetts will ensure that any Governor will have an adequate venue from which to perform official and important state business at a reasonable distance to Beacon Hill,” the commission concluded in 2014.

At the time Massachusetts was one of six states without a governor’s mansion. Today, the state is one of five, along with Arizona, Idaho, Rhode Island and Vermont. California recently reopened its mansion where Gov. Jerry Brown has lived since 2015.

Only two of those states without an official residence for the governor — Idaho and now Massachusetts — offer their governors a housing allowance, with Idaho paying its governor just over $54,000 a year.
The law states that a governor “shall receive $65,000 annually for expenses related to housing.”
Baker purchased his home on Monument Avenue in Swampscott in 1999 for $750,000, and it is now worth $1.12 million, according to town records. According to the governor’s 2016 statement of financial interest, the Bakers do not have a mortgage on the property, but property taxes add up to more than $19,500 a year.

“The Bakers will continue to reside in Swampscott,” spokesman Brendan Moss told the News Service when asked about the governor accepting the allowance. In a follow-up, Moss said the governor had no plans to buy or rent another property with the stipend.

Ironically, the state’s first governor, John Hancock, once lived in a manor on the property that is now the grounds of the State House.

Gov. Nathaniel Banks in 1859 proposed to buy the Hancock Manor as a governor’s mansion, but the idea was rejected by the Legislature and the home was later demolished.

Like Baker who lives in Swampscott and commutes to Boston, most governors in recent memory have lived close enough to the State House for the lack of an official residence to not matter much. Deval Patrick commuted from Milton, and Mitt Romney lived in Belmont.

Paul Cellucci’s 40-mile commute from Hudson was the longest over the past 40 years, while William Weld just had to come over the river from Cambridge, and Mike Dukakis rode the Green Line from Brookline.

The one exception was Jane Swift, who lived in North Adams, and during her time as lieutenant governor and governor stayed with family when she was in Boston.

“There are going to be some cases where it appears more legitimate or appropriate than others, but we felt we couldn’t really differentiate,” said Michael Widmer, the former head of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation who sat on the special commission on compensation. “That was trying to cut something too fine, so we felt a consistent policy with a housing allowance was the fair thing.”
The special commission report cited expert estimates that the value of having an official state residence for a governor to live and host activities “exceeds $100,000.” The commission said that value would be greater in Boston, which at the time was the most expensive state capital in the country in which to own a single family home.

Widmer said it would be “cleaner” if Massachusetts had an actual house, and no one could question what the governor chooses to do with the housing allowance, but he also noted that housing allowances are common in the corporate world.

They’re not unheard of in the public sector, either.

University of Massachusetts President Marty Meehan, for instance, receives a $60,000 housing allowance, and used it while living in Andover to rent an apartment in Boston for late nights at work or entertaining before he bought a condo in the city.

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