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Monday, November 21, 2011

Give Connecticut Legislators a Raise!

No. I haven't gone off the deep end.  Read on.

The current Republican class in
Connecticut's GA are Replicans one
and all. Where are our leaders?
As I travel around the Nutmeg State politicking, I sometimes run into a bright, passionate individual who strikes me as the perfect candidate for state-wide political office.  Perhaps its their depth of knowledge on a particular set of issues or their impressive communication style, or maybe its their background as an effective leader in a business setting, local government post, or even as a member of a non-partisan commission.  My belief is that Republicans should always be in recruitment mode - looking for talented people to run for office.  And given the capitulate pool of Replicans (not a spelling error) representing us in the General Assembly these days - you'd have to agree that we could really use some new blood.  Many of the career incumbents who skip off to Hartford have long-forgotten the noble reason why they got involved in politics in the first place.

Sometimes, I'm bold to make the suggestion to a potential recruit - and most people respond by looking at me as though I have six heads, or worse - as if I had just insulted them.  I recognize there is good reason for this - first, many politicians from both sides of the aisle have the reputation of being some of the most corrupt people in the world, and second - the usual profile of one holding elected office is usually a character not high up on the moral rung of the ladder. Although in fairness, there are exceptions to this well-accepted stereotype.

Occasionally, I'll encounter a person who'll absorb my suggestion - stop for a moment, raise their eye-brows, grin, and stare off into space pondering the notion.  I can see the wheels of their imagination turning - their mind's eye depicts them sitting upon Pharaoh's golden throne while servants fan them, and bring them an abundance of food and drink. That fantasy is only upstaged them envisioning Princes from foreign lands bowing before them while placing overflowing bags of cash at their feet.  Then suddenly - the illusion fades to handcuffs, a witness chair, and then darkness within a prison cell.  They awake from their daydream, and utter a "no thanks" and quickly head for the nearest exit.

People often voice frustration at the level of incompetence in the CT State Legislature. It's a place where very little actually gets done unless someone owes you a favor and you're being paid off for patronage. One of the main problems with attracting better-qualified talent to Connecticut's General Assembly lies in the poor compensation provided those who serve.  It's The King's view that most people worth their salt cannot afford to run for the General Assembly because it doesn't pay enough for them to make honest living, pay their bills, or raise a family.

For those of you who don't know, elected officials who serve in the Connecticut General Assembly earn a meager $28,000 per year as outlined in Section 2-8a of the Connecticut's Statutes (majority/minority leaders and other officers are paid slightly more) plus a stipend of roughly $5,000 for transportation reimbursement.  Even though the job is not full time, year round - perhaps it should be - you'd think that these people would make at least as much as educators do - enough to make the job appear to be a serious one.

When you compare Connecticut with some of our neighbors you see that New Jersey Legislators make $49,000 a year, New York Legislators make $79,500,  Massachusetts Legislators make $58,237, and Pennsylvania Legislators make $73,613 per year.  So even on it's own merit, my argument isn't too far fetched.  The idea that you get what you pay for certainly is a factor to consider.

It's probably not surprising to you that many of the people who sit in our General Assembly seem to be of a particular make-up:  1) Wealthy spouses of millionaires who see politics as mere hobby and a social outlet, or 2) Greedy trial attorneys who have the luxury of billing clients in hourly blocks day and night, and enjoy a little part time gig on the side to support their drinking habit, or 3) Twenty-somethings who are recent career college grads and ideologues - sort of like my old West Hartford friend - Jonathan Harris - who started his political career while living in his mother's basement, and who moved up the ladder of political opportunity as the circumstances allowed for it.  Which goes to show you that you don't need to be the sharpest tool in the box, only the craftiest.  And lastly, 4) Single drifters like Joe Markley, who's in and out of as many jobs as he is States - only happy to get the $28K, and anything else he can find with his Radio Shack Metal Detector.  Seems like he found a treasure trove with Linda McMillions.  What can I say - Busway Joe is on a roll.

Begin Segway: What irks me about Joe Markley  as a State Legislator is that he's a self-promoting opportunist.  When it comes to the real issues concerning Connecticut, Shoeless Joe has completely lost the plot. First he sues the Department of Public Utility Control over an alleged hidden tax issue - and loses, then he holds a big rally, and trains down to the House of Representatives to try and block the Busway - and Legislators wouldn't even see him, and he loses.  So what's next?  Well The King predicts that next he'll be scheming up a big plan to try and stop the Jackson Labs project.  I mean why not? - sure, he'll lose but he'll get his name in the paper, play the role of Public Savior - and all while taking credit for voting Yea on Malloy's Union Jobs Bill.  How much are all these side adventures costing taxpayers, anyway? Fact is - it's just more malarkey from Joe Markley.
End Segway... Grrr!

Back to the main point....

I guess if you live at home or in an apartment, and you don't have the same financial obligations as the rest of us regular working stiffs, you don't think twice about going on a spending spree with other people's money.  Sending the Rep from either the Harris or Markley category above to the G.A. is sort of ironic if you think about it - how do people who've never strived to really be anything, or have anything - end up making decisions for those of us who do?  Sort of bizarre.  Sort of outrageous.

So what would happen if Connecticut adjusted State Legislators' salaries upward, and extended the session so that Legislators would have more time to think and work together collaboratively to create better, more productive solutions?  Did you ever think of what the ramifications might be?

Well for beginners, if salaries were adjusted so that the starting salary was 60K or more, you would certainly attract a better caliber of candidate on both sides of the aisle.  It's funny if you think about it - most voters believe that being a member of the CT General Assembly is a step-up from serving as a Mayor or First Selectman of a town - even though the pay for serving as First Selectman in some towns is actually much higher than that of someone serving in the State House.  My belief is if you raised the salary - you would instantly put better qualified and experienced publicly elected servants (including a few First Selectman) in play for a number of seats around the state.

Second, you would expand the pool of talent to include people who may be willing to take a few years off from the private sector, or be willing to make a partial sacrifice - such as small business owner who might otherwise lose everything if he were elected to the General Assembly at today's salary - because he couldn't afford to keep his own lights on.  Connecticut's General Assembly could use a more diverse pool of representation - which means fewer attorneys, and wealthy land barons, and far more businessmen and businesswomen among their ranks.  Having the perspective of people who suffer or benefit first hand from decisions made at the State Level would be valuable asset to have at the LOB to help get us out of the current crisis.

Both Democrats and Republicans
have been caught taking more
than their share from the cooie jar
Third, there would be less people with their hands in the cookie jar because there would be more capable individuals, self-reliant, and less dependent on a Union safety net - during, and at the end of service.  There would be less of an appetite for cronyism as there would be fewer bottom-feeders promised post-service payoffs by Union Organizations, and lobbying firms.  Think about it - the average person who makes a measly $28K needs patronage income to exist - for without it - they couldn't survive financially.  Doesn't it make you wonder exactly how some do?

I'm sure a few people are steaming about the thought of rewarding the current group of Legislators with a massive pay increase. Don't get me wrong - that is NOT my suggestion.  And I don't blame you for your skepticism - for between Governor Malloy, the Democrat-owned Assembly, and so-little opposition from Republicans - save perhaps Chris Coutu who probably voted against the Jobs Bill because he slipped on a banana peel on the way into the Chamber - they don't deserve even the smallest pay raise based on their record of failure.  I'd argue that the pay increase could be tied to next year's election.  The big opposition to this would come from Democrats who as we know - hate competition.

If Connecticut State Legislators truly cared about Connecticut, they would upgrade their roles from a part-time hobbyist, to full time Legislator.  They would go from a rushed, shot-gun approach to solving Connecticut's issues, to a body of quasi-professional, fully-committed solution architects - and really work to improve Connecticut's economy and our resident's well-being.  Clearly, the current approach isn't working, and it's time to end this charade and make a real change.



The original blog entry can be viewed at

This entry may be updated at a latter date.


Anonymous said...

All you'll get by extending the session is more screwing around time - they'll still ram everything through 5 minutes before sine die then drink the night away on the taxpayer dime.

Dan Reale said...

New York and New Jersey are comparatively crazy in a lot of ways. While the last thing we need is a full time legislature, there is, obviously a need to incentivize performance. I'd only suggest a salary increase based on... performance. How you measure that is a large ball of wax, but there's the solution.

The King said...

Well its true that there will always be a few in the crowd who rush to do their homework five minutes before the bus arrives.

Think of it this way, if the undesireables had to be there full time (like some trial attorneys I know), they wouldn't be able to both chase ambulances and serve in the GA. Like I wrote many do this for the money and to promote their businesses. Attorneys working for firms are only as good as the hours they can bill. Yes, I expect some people will HATE this idea because it will ruin one hellava gig they have going.

I've had a number of conversations with Jonathan Harris and other Reps and Senators - they always say - if only we had more time, or the session is too short, or remind me next session. There is a lot of concern with not having enough "time" as an ongoing theme. This is one thing that the media has not taken up as a root cause for not addressing the folly of the State's reaction to Hurricane Irene or Storm Alfred.

As an pessimist you could claim they'd find creative ways to spend more of our money, but if you're an optimist like me - you might believe that they would have the time to do things more efficiently and for less if given the time to really vet ideas over a longer period of time.

Dan, I somehow expected that response from you. :). Go take a peak at the list and you'll see other states like Florida, Illinois, Maryland, and Ohio that also pay full time. They are not comparative with Connecticut - I only chose NJ, NY, and MA because they are similiar for many reasons (note that RI is the oddball in the region). As for tying performance incentives to salary increase - I understand the concept but fear at the end of the day, the Legislature would be making a call (in the same way that the Governor will chose who benefits from the Jobs Bill).