Is the Governor’s Council Obsolete?

I’ve always wondered – why do we need a Governor’s Council? What duties do they perform that could not be covered by other existing bodies?  As far as I can tell: approval of gubernatorial appointments (including judges), prison pardons, and something about payments from the treasury. How much does this cost, in terms of salary, support staff, office space overhead, and pensions?

A few months ago I ran into a guy who was collecting signatures to run for that office. (I signed the form, but I forget his name.) He did agree with me that the office was a waste, but since it’s there, he was going for it.

Could this be a good time to abolish a (surely) leftover from centuries past?  The money saved would not be significant, but the message to voters/taxpayers might be.

Published by JohnBowe

Belmont resident for 14+ years, near-Belmont 9 more. Former Belmont School Committee member (2003-06), and time on Warrant Cmte, and Capital Budget Cmte. Current member of Wellington Elementary School Building Committee, Town Meeting member. Married (Dot), 2 kids, software engineer.

3 replies on “Is the Governor’s Council Obsolete?”

  1. As long as the GC has these roles, it is important to have responsible serving on it.

    Let me look into the status of ideas to abolish it. I think that this is a perennial question and might make sense.

  2. The Governor’s Council does indeed have very little, if any, practical use. Mr. Bowe is correct that its functions are limited to approving judicial appointments (and a few other positions appointed by the governor), pardons, and payments from the treasury. All of these duties are essentially formalities, though, as the real vetting work for appointments is done by the Judicial Nominating Council, appointed by the governor. There hasn’t been a pardon before the council since 2003, and the approval of payments from the Treasury is something the Council never debates or ever prevents.
    The problem with abolishing the Council is that it is established by the Massachusetts Constitution, so it will take a constitutional amendment to abolish it. Senator Brian Joyce has been filing a constitutional amendment for the abolition of the council for several sessions, but it hasn’t gotten anywhere. This session’s was voted down by the Judiciary Committee.
    The Governor’s Council costs taxpayers about $400,000 every year, according to the Boston Phoenix. This total includes the $26,025 per year paid to each of the eight Council members as well as administrative costs. In the budget, the funds for the council are lumped in with the Governor and Lieutenant Governor budgets, so it’s hard to tell (perhaps by design) from just looking at the budget how much is going to the Governor’s Council.
    The Governor’s Council used to have real power. It was originally intended as a check on the Governor’s power to prevent a repeat of tyrannical colonial governors. It was in the line of succession to the Governor after the lieutenant governor, and in 1800 the Governor’s Council filled in when there was no Governor. Up until the 1960s the Council was a hotbed of corruption, as it had power over certain salaries of state employees and licensing fees. After five of the members were indicted on various corruption charges in 1959, it was stripped of all but its constitutionally-mandated duties, which are the formalities it performs to this day. Governor Dukakis tried to abolish it completely but failed in both the legislature and a ballot initiative. However, he did weaken it further by creating the Judicial Nominating Council to perform the real work of advising on judicial appointments and moving the Council’s offices from the Governor’s suite to the less-glamorous first floor.

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