Another Chris Doherty flyer arrived in today’s mail – the sixth in the past three weeks. On one side is the “hole in the shoe” photo telling us to “Vote Cheap” and on the other he says, among other things, that “For too long on Beacon Hill, they’ve acted like there’s a blank check, with us paying the bill” going on to promise that he’ll lower everyone’s taxes.
But the Doherty flyer also attacks Donoghue directly. At the top of a menacing black box illustrated with a black and white photo of Donoghue, red letters proclaim “Eileen Donoghue Blew Up the Budget and Rewarded Herself With a Pay Raise.” The text in the box states the following:
While Eileen Donoghue was in office, the Lowell city budget exploded – growing from $155 million to $260 million. For her performance, Eileen more than doubled her own pay. Now Eileen wants to go to Beacon Hill and join the spending spree. It’s time to put a stop to Eileen Donoghue and the same old runaway spending practices.
Whew. I need a moment to catch my breath.
The “doubling the pay” thing is kind of amusing. In 1965 a Lowell city councilor was paid $4000 per year. In the 1980s, that rose to $7500. Sometime after 2000, that went to $15000. My memory of that latest increase was that one council voted for it but it would not take effect until the next council took office. So if the voters opposed the raise, they could oust those who supported it. They didn’t. I’m not sure where the “more than doubled” thing comes from. By my math, going from $7500 to $15000 is exactly double, but that’s beside the point. While I’ve never served on the Lowell city council, I have observed many councils for many years and I truly do believe they’re entitled to (at least) $15 grand per year for all the work they do. It’s ironic that during last week’s debate, when Donoghue called Doherty on his salary as an Assistant DA rising from $30,000 to more than $80,000, Doherty’s heated reply was that he worked hard for the Commonwealth and earned every cent of that salary. I suspect the members of the Lowell city council, past and present, would feel the same way about earning their $288 per week.
As for the city’s budget “exploding” during Donoghue’s tenure on the council, I’ll just try to provide some context: Donoghue was elected to the council in the fall of 1995, so she took office in January 1996 and voted on her first budget – FY97 – in June 1996. She left the council in December 2007 after not running for re-election that fall due to her participation in that September’s special primary election for the Fifth Congressional District. That means the last city budget she would have voted on would have been FY08 (voted on in June 2007).
Lowell’s biggest source of budgetary revenue is and has been state aid. In fact, more than 80% of the public school money comes from the state. The first half of Donoghue’s tenure on the council coincided with the enormous jumps in aid received due to the state’s Education Reform Law which might just account for much of the budgetary “explosion” cited in the Doherty piece. As the parent of a student who attended the Lowell public schools during that time, I’m pleased Donoghue and her colleagues didn’t turn back all of that state aid to the public schools.
As for the second half of Donoghue’s time on the council, City Manager Lynch helpfully provided a historical analysis of city spending in the introduction to the FY08 budget – Donoghue’s last – which can be found here. According to Lynch, the budget buster of the early 2000s was “fixed costs” which he identified as the cost of employee health insurance and contributions to the retirement system on behalf of former employees. In every other phase of city government, budget increases during that time were less than the rate of inflation and the number of people employed by the city went down each year from FY03 to FY08.
This continues to be a fascinating race. It’s been a long time since looking in my mailbox each day has been such an exciting undertaking.