Does raising pay for state lawmakers make sense?

In a controversial proposal he discussed in a Connecticut Mirror article, state Sen. Norm Needleman makes some valid points, but they’re not likely to be politically popular.

Needleman, 68, a freshman Democrat from Essex, argues Connecticut should significantly boost the pay for state legislators. Lawmakers last approved a raise for themselves in 2001. Pay raises do not go into effect until after the following election.

The base pay is $28,000, though the parties try to find leadership positions for most everyone to boost that, bringing pay to between $30,403 to $38,889. Additionally, lawmakers get mileage reimbursement and the state provides $5,500 annually to senators and $4,500 to House members to cover expenses associated with their work, according to the Mirror.

Still, said Needleman, it is hard to find people willing to take on the rigors and criticism the job entails for that money, and that limits the pool of potential candidates. Indeed, it probably goes a long way in explaining why lawyers, businesspeople and the comfortably retired, who can manage their legislative responsibilities around their schedules, are dominant in the legislative ranks.

Needleman is raising the issue out of principle. A successful businessman who founded Town Laboratories, a manufacturer of over-the-counter medicines and medical supplies, Needleman doesn’t accept a state salary. He is also first selectman of Essex, only accepting $10,000 of the $90,000 salary that job provides.

Relatively speaking, it would not take much money to provide legislators a more livable wage. Awarding a $25,000 salary boost would add $4.7 million to the budget, amounting to 1/45th of 1% of the state budget, as the article put it.

Voters, we suspect, won’t be keen on the idea. They’ve seen tax increases and cuts in services as the state struggled through successive budget crises. The pension funds for state workers and teachers remain grossly underfunded. Connecticut’s economic recovery has trailed most other states since the Great Recession of 2008-2010. So why would lawmakers deserve a raise?

“You get what you pay for,” said Needleman.

The senator recognizes the legislature would never consider a pay raise going into the 2020 election, but if re-elected he plans to raise the issue in 2021. His re-election is not a given in the toss-up 33rd District.

We’re not ready to endorse pay raises, but give Needleman credit for the courage to start the conversation.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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