Metro

Pay raise pushes state watchdog’s salary to $181,000

A state panel awarded Inspector General Glenn A. Cunha his second five-figure raise in as many years Thursday, pushing his salary to more than $181,000 over the objections of a fellow state watchdog.

Cunha, first appointed in 2012 to head the independent agency, will start collecting his new $181,490 salary on July 1 after the Inspector General Council voted, 5-1, to bump his pay by more than $11,000.

It comes less than a year after the board gave him a nearly $12,000 raise, and pushes him toward the cap that state statute allows him to make. The inspector general’s pay is allowed to go as high as 90 percent of the Supreme Judicial Court’s chief justice salary, which as of July will jump to $206,239, thanks to controversial 2017 legislation that raised the pay for lawmakers, judges, and other officials.

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Cunha’s current salary already outpaces the pay of each of the six constitutional officers, several of whom turned down raises that were tucked into 2017 salary package. That includes Governor Charlie Baker, who currently makes $151,800.

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James Morris, who chairs the council and backed the raise, said several members didn’t want to hit the $185,615 limit but wanted to send a message “that we’re very happy with his performance.”

“I’m sure some people feel it’s a little high, but we looked at performance,” Morris said. “It’s not just simply chasing people who have conned the system. He’s proactive with going out and educating people, the cities and towns. He’s a highly professional guy.”

The lone dissenting vote came from a designee of state Auditor Suzanne Bump, who herself saw her pay jump from $140,607 to $165,000 last year under the legislative pay raise package.

The two-term Democrat backed raising Cunha’s pay a year ago, saying at the time that his $170,000 salary “represented the importance of the work of the office.” But this time, she pointed back to his current salary and the size of the raise in voting against it.

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“When considering all factors,” Bump spokesman Mike Wessler said, “she believed it to be excessive.”

While not a law enforcement agency, Cunha’s office is tasked with investigating crimes involving public funds and identifying government waste and abuse. If it finds criminal wrongdoing, it can refer cases to the attorney general and the state’s district attorneys for prosecution.

State Comptroller Thomas Shack, another council member, said he backed the pay raise because he felt Cunha was doing a “phenomenal” job.

“I certainly believe the increase is well deserved and it’s still below the cap that is set on the office,” he said. “I can’t think of someone who has earned the trust of the public and his fellow leaders more than Inspector General Cunha.”

In the last five years, Cunha’s pay has jumped by more than 33 percent, making him one of the country’s highest paid statewide inspectors general.

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There are roughly a dozen inspectors general, Cunha included, whose jurisdiction includes an entire state, according to a directory kept by the Association of Inspectors General.

Among those watchdogs, none made more than $168,000 in 2017, according to a Globe review of publicly available payroll records. Catherine Leahy Scott, New York’s inspector general, made $167,432 in 2017, while California’s Roy W. Wesley earned $164,115. Some salaries, like that of Florida’s chief inspector general, Eric W. Miller, were not included in online databases.

There are other inspectors who are responsible for investigating specific state agencies. The official who has oversight over the Illinois secretary of state’s office, for example, made more than $182,000 last year.

Reach Matt Stout at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout