No pay raise for CT governor, lawmakers

March 22, 2019 GMT

HARTFORD — It took a little-known board in an out-of-the-way meeting room in the State Capitol complex about 12 minutes on Thursday to reject the idea of potential pay raises for the governor, constitutional officers and the General Assembly.

So the base salary for lawmakers will remain at $28,000 for at least two more years, while the cost of living continues to eat away at the take-home pay of state senators and representatives, whose last salary increase was in 2001.

The meeting of the nine-member state Compensation Commission was so low key that the group had to round up votes over the phone during the course of the day, to reach a majority, 6-0 vote on the issue. But the panel, led by Richard Balducci, a former speaker of the House of Representatives, was in no mood to approve raises at a time when the state is in fiscal trouble.

“It’s a part-time legislature,” Balducci said. “It’s been a part-time legislature historically. It’s become much more of a full-time legislature because committees are meeting throughout the year, as opposed to when they used to meet just during the legislative session, with a few exceptions. Everyone is talking about being a little more frugal as we go forward this fiscal year and next, in trying to find dollars to save.”

There was no appetite among the three commission members who attended the meeting - Balducci of Deep River, Justin Bernier of Plainville and Richard Eriksen of Durham - for any increase.

“I think those rates are adequate for the statewide officials,” Bernier said in a meeting room on the fifth floor of the Legislative Office Buidling.

The $28,000 base salary is supplemented by $4,500 in unvouchered expenses for the 151 House members, and $5,500 in expenses for the 36 senators. In addition, lawmakers get 54 cents per mile for driving. Committee chairman and caucus leaders, such as deputy speakers of the House or deputy Senate leaders, also make a little more money.

“I know it isn’t large amounts, but I think it sends the wrong message to the men and women out there who pay taxes every single day, and many of them living on fixed incomes that we give any of these folks more compensation,” said Balducci, who served as speaker from 1989 to 1992. “I think they’re fine where they are.”

“Really, as a part-time legislature they are possibly over-paid, and at least adequately paid” Bernier said. “If the state wants to turn this body into a full-time legislature it’s another story. This is very commensurate with other states.”

But Senate President Pro Tempore Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, who at $38,689 is the highest-paid of the 187 members of the General Assembly, said that lawmakers have been losing money, through the rising cost of living, since that 2001 hike.

“The reality is that the effective legislative pay has declined substantially since 2001,” Looney said. “But people are skittish to do anything around this issue, and right now we’re in a holding pattern, it seems.” Looney, a lawyer, said that with the advent of email, and the near 12-month legislative schedule, for many lawmakers it’s a full-time job. “Our time commitments have been growing over the years,” he said, recalling the year-long budget fight of 2017.

Veteran Rep. Bob Godfrey, D-Danbury, noted that this year he submitted legislation to raise the base salary to $40,000, to finally adjust the pay for inflation. The bill awaits action in the legislative Appropriations Committee.

“I’m certainly not doing the job for the money or the raw power,” Godfrey joked. “But my job has been full-time for years. A lot of the time I can work from home, but I’m still working.”

Godfrey, whose title of deputy speaker bumps up his salary to $34,446, plus the $4,500 and mileage, said that the low pay seems to be working against the General Assembly’s self-proclaimed reputation as a part-time citizen government. “When I started out in 1989 there was a plumber, a meter reader, a state representative from a manufacturing assembly plant.” He said that more legislators are just out of college, have spouses who work, or are independently wealthy.

“So it’s no surprise that in recent years we’ve been enacting budgets by the rich and for the rich,” said Godfrey, a member of the General Assembly’s progressive caucus. First-year Sen. Norm Needleman of Essex, who spent $600,000 to narrowly win, is not taking pay, according to a list of legislative salaries released Thursday under the state Freedom of Information Act.

Gov. Ned Lamont, a wealthy investor who spent millions of his own money to get elected, has promised not to take a salary. His staff on Thursday said that Lamont is still trying to navigate the state law that requires he get $150,000 a year. The salary for constitutional officers and the governor were last adjusted in 2003.

kdixon@ctpost.com Twitter: @KenDixonCT