Two retiring state legislators stood on the House floor Wednesday and said what many will say behind the scenes: lawmakers elected to Connecticut’s part-time legislature do not earn enough for a position that often prevents them from maintaining other jobs.
It was a bipartisan opinion, coming from Groton Democrat Joe de la Cruz and Litchfield Republican David Wilson. Both men announced on opening day of the legislative session they wouldn’t be seeking another term. Both said the job demanded more time than what could fairly be considered a part-time job.
Connecticut legislators make a base salary of $28,000. The pay is based on recommendations of a state compensation commission, appointed by elected officials, and hasn’t changed since 2001. That’s partly due to the optics of public officials approving raises for themselves while some constituents struggle financially.
De la Cruz acknowledged the stigma as he announced his decision and suggested his colleagues consider raises or transitioning to a full time legislature.
“A politician asking for money on the House floor. Sounds crazy, but I can do that because I’m on my way out the door,” he said. The comment was met with applause from around the chamber and Wilson agreed when he rose to speak about his own coming retirement.
“This is going to sound really strange coming from a Republican but I entirely agree with my good representative on the other side of the aisle that we are underpaid for the work that we do and that our job is much more than a part time job,” Wilson said.
Both men agreed more pay or a change in the structure of the legislature may allow more qualified candidates to participate in the legislative process. Wilson suggested switching from two-year terms to four in order to reduce the strain of raising money and campaigning every other year.
De la Cruz, a vice president at Hillery, a Groton-based metal fabrication company, said his decision was a financial one. As recently as Saturday he had planned to run for another term, but a meeting with his wife and retirement advisors changed that.
“The retirement planner and [his wife] didn’t even have to use the calculator and do the math,” he said. “The $30,000 a year we make to do this illustrious job, the one that we all really care for, is truly not enough to live on. It’s truly not enough to retire on or work for.”
On Thursday, House leaders from both parties said they would not consider any change to the part-time structure of the legislature. But they were open to considering increasing legislative compensation.
“There’s probably a lot of valid arguments that could be made about who’s able to participate in the legislative process by virtue of how much you can make,” House Majority Leader Jason Rojas said. “I’d be open to it [but] not my number one priority right now.”
House Speaker Matt Ritter said he would allow a vote to raise legislative salaries only if at least half of both parties in the chamber planned to vote for it. “But it’s not going to be carried by Dems and it shouldn’t be carried by Rs,” Ritter said.
House Republican leader Rep. Vincent Candelora said he was probably the minority in his caucus, but believed it was a conversation worth having. Residents often assume state lawmakers earn salaries comparable to their six-figure federal counterparts. In reality, the $28,000 pay disqualifies some people from running.
“We definitely don’t do it for the money but it only attracts a certain type of person who’s able to afford to do this or you get individuals who end up working for nonprofits funded by the state which creates a huge conflict of interest,” Candelora said.