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CT House Approves Salary Increases for State Lawmakers

HARTFORD — After a quick 20-minute debate, State House lawmakers approved the first pay raise for themselves in more than 20 years.

Eleven Democrats voted against the wage hike and 11 Republicans approved the bill, providing some political symmetry to the 95-53 vote, which sends the bill to the Senate, where it must act before Wednesday’s deadline in midnight of the General Assembly.

The vote to raise their modest salary in an election year pointed to the problem of Republican and Democratic city committees statewide attracting a variety of candidates.

“There has been a growing interest, I think, among internal members of the chamber as well as the public, to ensure that elected officials who have a huge responsibility to the state are compensated for the time and work that they devote to their work,” the Chamber said. Majority Leader Jason Rojas, D-East Haven, said while introducing the bill.

The increases would be effective at the next General Assembly in January 2023.

The current salary of $28,000 for entry-level lawmakers would increase to $40,000, with future increases tied to the cost of living during each two-year legislative cycle. Compensation for top executives — the Speaker of the House and the acting Senate President — would rise from $38,689 to $50,000.

The governor’s $150,000 salary, which Governor Ned Lamont refused to take, would amount to about $216,000, the equivalent of the Chief Justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court. The lieutenant governor, secretary of state, comptroller, state treasurer and attorney general would each receive $180,460, the equivalent of superior court judges, up from $110,000 currently.

“We’re having a hard time getting qualified candidates to agree to run for this position, even though we all value it,” said Rep. Tom O’Dea, R-New Canaan. “It’s a job that involves working much longer than just being on session day.” A lawyer, O’Dea said that to make up for his full-time job and part-time legislature, he ends up working seven days a week.

State Rep. Bob Godfrey, D-Danbury, who was first elected in 1988, said that over the past half dozen years he had introduced legislation to raise wages.

“It’s time,” Godfrey said, reminding the chamber that an inflation chart shows $28,000 in 2001 would be worth $45,000 today.

“You can talk about part-time lawmakers until the cows come home, or not,” Godfrey said. “Each of us works every day, every year, weekends, holidays. This is a full-time job and the low amount of pay makes recruiting candidates very difficult. When you walk by and talk to them about what it takes, how long it takes, are they with you until they tell you how much you get paid? And we tell them and they kind of laugh and say “yeah, another time”.

He recalled that in 1989 there was a more diverse group of House members, including a plumber, an assembly line worker and a meter reader.

“We lost that because people at those income levels, working people, middle class, just can’t afford to take time off to do the full-time job here,” Godfrey said. “Unfortunately that means too many of us, we don’t look like the state of Connecticut economically. We’re raising income levels a bit, we’re leaning a bit towards the wealthy and I think you can probably argue that this skews part of the review of certain laws.

He called it “strange” that the state’s public funding program for House seats gives participants $33,000 to run for jobs that pay $28,000. “Twenty-one is just too long and it’s just time to do it,” Godfrey said.

“I think this is a long overdue conversation,” said Rep. David Wilson, R-Litchfield, who was first elected in 2016 and earlier this session announced he would not seek to to be re-elected because of the low salary. He interviewed half a dozen potential Republican successors of varying skill sets.

“It became very clear very quickly, when you really explained it, which I think often doesn’t happen when we’re trying to recruit people to show up at the People’s House,” Wilson said. “I think the fact that it’s a part-time position is vastly underestimated. When I say underplayed I really mean they don’t tell you it’s a full time position. Twitter: @KenDixonCT

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