Rep. Bob Godfrey, D-Danbury Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

Citing difficulty recruiting and retaining qualified candidates, lawmakers in Connecticut’s House and Senate voted Tuesday to raise the pay of General Assembly members for the first time in more than two decades. 

The House passed the bill on a bipartisan, 95 – 53 vote, following a short debate in the early afternoon. The Senate followed about three hours later, passing the bill on a23 – 13, largely party line vote. Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, joined most Democrats in support. Sen. Joan Hartley, D-Waterbury, voted with Republicans in opposition.

The bill would boost the base salary of Connecticut legislators from $28,000 to $40,000 beginning next year, then tie the pay to the Employment Cost Index to be adjusted every two years. 

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“It’s time,” said Rep. Bob Godfrey, a Danbury Democrat first elected in 1988. Godfrey, who sponsored the proposal, said the raise would almost reflect the rate of inflation since 2001, the last time Connecticut lawmakers approved an increase in their salaries.

“Members are leaving because they can’t afford to stay here because the pay is too long. You can talk about part time legislatures until the cows come home — we’re not. Every one of us works every day, every year. Weekends. Holidays,” Godfrey said.

Two retiring lawmakers put the issue on the radar on the opening day of the legislative session in February when they cited compensation as a reason for their departure. On Tuesday, one of them, Rep. David Wilson, R-Litchfield, said he’d found it difficult to recruit new candidates to run in his place. 

“Understand that we’re kind of in a dilemma here. How do you find qualified people, many who work for employers who are not willing to give them time off?” Wilson said. 

Though the bill drew some opposing votes from both sides of the aisle, no one spoke in opposition Tuesday. One of the chamber’s more conservative Republicans, Rep. Doug Dubitsky of Chaplin said raises would help improve the quality of representatives in government

“Every one of you is my compadre. I love you all,” Dubitsky prefaced.

“I love you too,” House Speaker Matt Ritter said.

“Thank you,” Dubitsky said. “That being said, I do not think that this chamber or the chamber upstairs truly represents the best and brightest that this state has to offer and the reason is because this is a helluva job to take. We’re not part-time and we’re not full-time … it makes it incredibly difficult for regular people.”

On Monday, Gov. Ned Lamont told reporters he would sign the bill if it reached his desk. It now goes to the Senate for consideration before the legislative session ends Wednesday at midnight. 

Senate Presiden Martin Looney and Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield

The bill would also raise the salaries of the state’s constitutional officers, which include the governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of the state, treasurer, comptroller, and attorney general. The legislation ties those salaries to that of state Superior Court judges with the exception of the governor, whose salary would be tied to the Connecticut Supreme Court’s chief justice’s salary.

Senate President Martin Looney was the only lawmaker to speak about the bill before it was put to a vote in the Senate. He said the pay raise was long-overdue.

“We all know many talented legislators who had to leave after two or three terms because they just could not sustain it in terms of providing for their families and left at the point where they were becoming most productive,” Looney said.