Fasano says now is not the time for lawmaker raises [CT News Junkie]

January 23, 2015

CT News Junkie
A state commission will recommend giving pay raises to elected officials, including the governor and members of the legislature, for the first time in 14 years.

The Compensation Commission for Elected State Officers & General Assembly Members took preliminary votes on pay hikes during an hour-long meeting Wednesday in the Legislative Office Building.

If the recommendations are approved by lawmakers, each of the elected offices would see a 10 percent pay raise after the next election cycle four years from now. The increases would impact whoever wins the next races for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of the state, comptroller, and treasurer. Legislators also will consider raises for whoever wins their seat.

Wages in each of the positions have held steady since 2001. Currently, the governor makes $150,000 a year and constitutional officers make $110,000. Compensation for members of the General Assembly varies by their position, but the average lawmaker earns a $28,000 salary and has access to a $4,500 expense account.

“They haven’t had a raise in forever,” Richard Balducci, a former House speaker who serves on the commission, said. “They are certainly deserving of some kind of compensation” increase.

The commission’s members are appointed by the governor, as well as leaders of both parties from the Senate and House.

During the meeting, the panel reviewed the compensation of governors and lawmakers in other states. Connecticut’s governor makes somewhere in the middle of a wide range of salaries nationwide. Most on the commission agreed that Connecticut’s legislators are somewhat underpaid as compared to other part-time legislatures.

Justin Bernier, a Plainville Republican, was the only commission member to object to the raises. He said a 10 percent increase would make Connecticut’s governor, at $165,000 a year, among the 10 highest paid governors in the country. Legislators also are making about what a part-time lawmaker should make, he said.

Raises could put Connecticut lawmakers “up in the category of full-time legislators,” Bernier said, “and effectively remove any incentive to do something outside of the legislature.”

Others on the panel argued that the true hours kept by state lawmakers put them somewhere between part-time and full-time with the hours they devote to state work impeding on their other jobs. Vincent Marino, an attorney from Orange who serves on the commission, questioned whether some legislators even make the state minimum wage based on the hours they work at the Capitol.

Balducci said the 10 percent increase was “relatively modest.”

“I just think these men and women in both political parties, most of them work very hard at what they do. People decide whether or not they’re good enough when they elect them,” he said.

Bernier said the legislature should consider the state’s fiscal situation when they debate giving elected officials raises.

“When they take this to the floor they’re going to have to look themselves in the mirror and say ‘do we deserve a pay increase based on everything that’s going on in Connecticut,” he said.

Another commission member, Richard Eriksen of Durham, assured Bernier the legislature would weigh the issue.

“And if tradition holds true, they will turn [the raise] down,” he said.

The commission will draft their recommendations for the legislature to consider, but it’s unclear if it will take them up on the offer.

Asked about the possibility of a pay increase Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano said the state had “absolutely no money so it would be difficult for anybody to advocate lawmakers getting a raise.”

However, at some point in time someone has to review this process because the legislature from 12 years ago is different than the legislature today. Fasano said it takes a heck of a lot more time to balance and juggle all the demands of work, family, and public service and there are fewer employers willing to give their employees the time they need to dedicate to public service.

On Wednesday, House Speaker Brendan Sharkey quickly ended any talk of raises.

“That is not happening this year, given the budget realities,” Sharkey said. “Since there hasn’t been a raise in 15 years, I do however understand the commission’s perspective, particularly their recognition of the growing time commitment that legislators have to put in to represent the communities they serve.”