Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) made the case in Lowell, MA on Friday that letting the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy expire would create a burden for well-off teachers, firefighters, and police officers.
Brown also took on President Barack Obama for proposing tax hikes on families who earn more than $250,000 per year, saying that would hurt “teachers, firefighters, policemen, folks who work two jobs.”
Asked which public servants earn that much money, Brown said it is common for police officers to earn well over $100,000 annually when overtime is factored into their pay.
“You throw in a teacher who’s working, plus a summer job, it adds up pretty quickly,” he said. “There’s quite a few of them.”
On the technical merits, it’s possible there are at least some Massachusetts families who fit Brown’s description — a couple hundred turnpike cops were found to be making $100k+ salaries in 2009 thanks to prodigious overtime numbers, for example, and in theory some of them have a spouse in a similar position. A few high-ranking Boston cops were found to have used overtime to bring in incomes of over $200,000 in 2010.
But even if they and their spouses combine to cross the $250,000 threshold, only their income beyond that level is taxed at the higher marginal rate, meaning compared to the conventionally wealthy they’re likely only paying a sliver of their overall income at the maximum tax level.
It doesn’t sound like there’s an epidemic of high-income public servants based on the available data for the area. According to Salary.com, which tracks average pay across various professions, 90% of Boston police patrol officers made a base salary below $75,307 last year and 90% of Lowell patrol officers made a base salary below $70,857. 90% of firefighters in Boston make under $68,793, and below $64,729 in Lowell. The average teacher in Lowell makes about $80,841 a year, according to the Massachusetts Department of Education, higher than the statewide average of $68,781.
National stats don’t show a glut of high-income public servants, either. According to a 2010 Williams College study of the richest 1%, just 0.8% of them held jobs in the “Government, teachers, social services” category. Those numbers were based on 2005 tax returns, but it’s unlikely their share has gotten much higher — states have slashed jobs and benefits for teachers and police officers around the country since the 2008 financial collapse, especially as stimulus dollars have run out. According to the last jobs report, government employment is down by 280,000 positions over the last year.
TPM reached out to a spokesman for Scott Brown to clarify if they have an estimate of the number of affected households.
Correction: An earlier version inaccurately indicated Brown’s quotes were made to patrons at a Lowell restaurant. They came out of an editorial board meeting with the Lowell Sun. TPM regrets the error.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.