NEWBURYPORT — In a wide-ranging interview with The Daily News editorial board, Sen. Kathleen O’Connor Ives detailed issues she’ll be pushing during the coming legislative session, and addressed concerns about the recent vote on Beacon Hill to raise pay for all lawmakers.
During an hour-long interview at the newspaper office, the Newburyport Democrat explained why she voted in favor of increased pay for lawmakers, constitutional officers and judges.
“Legislators work very hard and the idea of increases has been kicked down the road for years,” said O’Connor Ives, whose base pay as a state senator is $62,500 per year, not counting her committee work. “I want to attract good people to the Legislature, and I want them to earn an adequate wage so they will stay. We are seeing a brain drain. Knowledgeable people are leaving.
“Experience is good. We want experienced pilots, experienced nurses, and we should encourage experience in our political leaders,” she said.
O’Connor Ives said she would have favored a pay increase done on an incremental basis, but noted that rank-and-file members like herself did not have a choice.
The increase, which was approved by both chambers, vetoed by the governor, then overridden, will raise the stipends paid to anyone with a leadership position or committee chairmanship in the House and Senate.
It would significantly boost the pay of the governor and all the constitutional officers, including the attorney general, state treasurer, auditor and secretary of state. It also boosts the salaries of judges and judicial staff.
Some top leaders, including Gov. Charlie Baker, have said they would not accept the increase.
O’Connor Ives, who is a lawyer, said her increase based on committee work would be $15,000 or $30,000; she said did not yet know how much because that decision will come from the Senate president.
She said she doesn’t take expense payments for travel, called per diems.
“I never took it,” she said. “It doesn’t seem like a good use of my time to be filling out auto-mileage reports on a regular basis. I didn’t like it philosophically and didn’t want it, practically. Everybody has to drive to work.”
In this term, she will have numerous roles on Senate standing committees.
She will serve as chair of the Post Audit and Oversight Committee, and will be vice-chair of the Personnel and Administration Committee. She also will serve on the Ways and Means Committee; the Higher Education Committee; the Joint Revenue Committee; and the Joint Election Laws Committee.
The senator said she has at least three legislative goals: continuing to work on bills that fight opioid addiction, examining the growth of corporate tax credits and expanding conservation-land tax credits.
She said she wants to see a “hands-free” state law to prohibit texting and phoning while driving, which she said causes accidents and deaths, as a fatal crash involving a pedestrian in Newburyport last fall would attest.
On the opioid addiction crisis, she said that progress has been made, such as pushing for a 30-day insurance-paid recovery period and treating many non-criminal addicts in rehab centers rather than jail.
O’Connor Ives said more education is needed to curb over-prescribing by doctors, and recipients of prescription drugs should be told about the potential dangers of the compounds.
She said more funding is needed in the treatment of users and prosecution of dealers who make dangerous drugs available.
On corporate text credits, if funding of programs is to increase, more revenue is needed, she said.
The senator suggested studying the use of corporate tax credits. “One example is the movie-making industry, and there are benefits. But many corporations have received credits, and it cuts down on our revenue.
“The state has a $40 billion annual budget. If we could retrieve just $1(billion) or $2 billion, it would be a major source of revenue.”
O’Connor-Ives will be the chair of the senate’s Post Audit and Oversight Committee, which she said would give her the opportunity to study the issue.
She also said she wants to see the cap raised on land-conservation tax credits. Many landowners would like to set aside land for conservation uses and as open space, but the current state program is not robust enough to handle large deals.
“Some land owners want to do the right thing but credits can be small, in some cases $75,000” for land that is much more valuable, she said.
O’Connor-Ives said some states have much higher maximums, so large amounts of acreage can be ceded to the state or non-profit groups with a tax credit that makes it worthwhile for the owners.
Asked what day-to-day issue her constituents are contacting her about these days, she said the pay increase for state legislators drew numerous calls and emails.
She also said she has heard from many dentists and state leaders about the future of Delta Dental, the large dental-insurance provider. She said it is a non-profit organization but it appears to be changing numerous policies The senator said that dentists want to learn more so they can know how they will be paid if Delta Dental does assume a new financial posture.
Dyke Hendrickson covers Newburyport. He can be reached at 978-961-3149 or a firstname.lastname@example.org
About the senator
Sen. Kathleen O’Connor Ives
Democrat, First Essex
24 Beacon St.
Boston, MA, 02133