For the second time in two years, Justin Bernier’s proposal to cut legislative pay by 10 percent was dead on arrival.
Five of the 11 members of the Compensation Commission for Elected State Officers and Judges met Wednesday in a conference room at the Legislative Office Building and decided not to recommend increasing or decreasing the pay of state lawmakers and the state’s six constitutional officers.
Plainville Republican Justin Bernier, who lost his party’s bid to run for Congress in the 5th Congressional District, said he made the proposal because “we appear to have a government here in Connecticut that’s larger than taxpayers can support.”
He said state government has become larger since the implementation of the income tax and if the state is going to get a handle on its expenses, then legislators should be able to lead by example. Bernier also mentioned how the legislature seems to have changed in recent years from part-time to full-time.
The last time lawmakers received a raise was 2001. The base pay for a lawmaker is $28,000, but it goes up to $30,403 for committees chairs and $34,446 for deputy leaders in the House and Senate on both sides of the aisle. Almost all lawmakers, except 42 freshmen in the House, make more than the base salary. In addition, House members receive $4,500 and Senators get $5,500 for miscellaneous expenses that do not have to be documented.
Former Speaker of the House Richard Balducci, who chaired the meeting Wednesday, said he didn’t disagree that the legislature seems to work longer hours than when he was speaker, but they’re not paid on a per diem basis. They receive a flat salary that’s not based on the amount of hours they work.
“I don’t think I could support a 10 percent cut for legislators since it’s been 12 years,” Balducci said.
But another member of the commission said he didn’t think lawmakers would vote themselves an increase even if the commission recommended it because it would look bad for lawmakers to be voting themselves a raise when the state is facing a deficit. The commission, which meets one or two times a year, only has the power to make recommendations to the legislature. If the legislature wanted to adopt the recommendations, members would have to take a vote on the floor.
Republican Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said he thinks the legislature should periodically look at how it operates — including assessing the salaries of lawmakers. But he said in such difficult economic times where individuals are losing jobs and business owners are struggling to keep their doors open, the legislature needs to reduce spending as much as possible.
“I know a decrease in legislative pay isn’t going to balance the budget,” McKinney said. “But in the past few years the alternative Republican budget has included a five percent reduction in legislative pay.”
Rep. Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said she hadn’t given her paycheck a second thought.
“Although it would be a reasonable thing to consider since we haven’t had a raise in 12 years, but this is not the time to be asking anyone for a raise,” she said Wednesday.
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero said the commission made a “wise move” in deciding to take no action.
In the past, some lawmakers have voluntarily cut their pay by 10 percent, but there was no information immediately available to say if that’s still the case.
Bernier didn’t push the issue or call for a vote on his motion to reduce legislative pay by 10 percent.
“It’s clear the votes weren’t there,” Bernier said. “It was more important to keep the issue alive so it doesn’t die.”
Bernier also proposed lowering the salaries of the six constitutional officers by 10 percent.
The last time the six constitutional officers received a raise was 2003.
The governor makes $150,000 a year and the lieutenant governor and the other four constitutional officers make $110,000 a year.
If you accept the premise that the governor is like the CEO of a large company, then he doesn’t know any CEO who makes $150,000 a year to run a major corporation, Balducci said.
He said the pay is an “embarrassment.”
But it hasn’t stopped any number of candidates from seeking the office.
Another member pointed out that retirement and healthcare benefits were something that needed to be looked at when talking about the total compensation package for the six constitutional officers.
But the commission decided against getting further numbers. The decision was made not to move forward with any changes to the salaries of lawmakers or constitutional officers.
Two months ago, a commission on Judicial Compensation made a recommendation to raise the salaries of judges by more than 20 percent over the next four years.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy included a $5.5 million increase in his budget over the next two years for judicial pay increases. He also is leaving more than a dozen vacancies on the bench.