Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Amann: Legislature Should Stay Part Time

The legislature would be greatly improved by either becoming full-time or being paid at least double what they get now. I've said that before, and it's still true.

There are a lot of good reasons why either or both of those things should happen, including reducing potential conflicts of interest with a legislator's "day job," opening the legislature to people who aren't able to find jobs willing to let them spend half the year or more in Hartford instead of at work, increasing the amount of time legislators can spend studying bills and becoming better informed about the issues facing the state and eliminating the legislative deadline that forces so many bills to be passed without due consideration at the last minute.

House Speaker Jim Amann and others believe that the legislature ought to remain part-time, however:

"I got a couple people who complained about it, and quite frankly, I said, 'If you don't want to be a legislator, don't run. Period,' " said Amann, who works as a fundraiser for a nonprofit organization. "Being a legislator is a sacrifice. We're not up here to make money. We're not up here to fool around. We're up here to try to make a difference to people's lives. Everybody knows what they are getting into, but some people just can't adjust to it." (Coleman)

Yet this year, the legislature met during at least part of every month save January, August and September. As the people's business (especially the budget) becomes more and more complicated and varied, the legislature will edge further towards full-time anyway.

This is a historical trend. Here is a passage from Judge Robert Satter's excellent guide to the Connecticut legislature, Under the Gold Dome, describing the legislature before the state Constitution was changed in 1965:

The legislature met biennially--for five months (from January until June), in the odd-numbered years only--and then went home. Even during the year it convened infrequently, doing most of its legislating in the last few days, often in the hectic closing hours. It did nothing between sessions and rarely met in special session. (Satter)

The part-time legislature was intended for an earlier time, when legislative business was not so all-consuming and pressing. The demands of a modern, complex, cosmopolitan state like Connecticut have already required the legislature to meet in at least one special session for the past four years.

The "citizen legislature" is a democratic ideal, but it isn't a realistic one anymore. It will be a shame to lose some of the "real world" experience that comes from having a day job, but the advantages of a full-time, professional legislature far outweigh that loss.

Sources

Coleman, Tobin. "Legislature weighs becoming full time." Stamford Advocate 3 January, 2006.

Satter, Robert. Under the Gold Dome. Connecticut Conference of Municipalities: New Haven, 2004.

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

The state legislature provides virtually no oversight to the executive branch. The cost to make it full time would show all kinds of savings. Many of the fragmented commissions and boards with their staffs could be eliminated. This notion that it would be any less diverse is nonsense. Anybody ever here of term limits?

ThemDems said...

Would this allow sitting legislators to hold part time jobs outside of the General Assembly? I would hope so, it would be a shame for people like Rep. McCloskey (who I have come to admire for his commitment to ethics) and others to have to give up their current jobs. I love the idea of a full time legistaure because it goes to the heart of "good government." It just needs to be done in a fair manner. Unfortunately, there are a lot of Republicans who are probably be licking their chops in anticipation of taking advantage of such a system.

Anonymous said...

If we made it full-time and paid them more money we would be able to attract better candidates.

David said...

I am not sure whether full-time is better. It could potentially eliminate real/perceived conflicts of interests by prohibiting outside employment. We could also
do better oversight over the Executive Branch and be more of a co-equal branch in power.

However, we may end up doing a lot of unnecessary law-making to justify our existance and interfere
in the day-to-day operations of state agencies.

I think we first should try to do a better job within the current system. What if bills lasted the full two years of a legislative
term instead of dying on the calendar at the end of the first term to start all over again? Other part-time legislatures do a better job of organizing their time and priorities than CT has done. We could reorganize our committees so that they more closely align with state agencies. etc.

Anonymous said...

The legislature doubled the governor's salary and all we're getting is Malloy and Destefano, so I don't think paying the legislature more money will get better candidates. David makes a few good points about trying to do better with what they've got. The question will be is Amann intersted and the answer is probably not based on his propensity so far to just make goverment bigger.

Anonymous said...

If you think the legislature is too political and doesn't look out for what's best for the state NOW, wait until their PAYCHECKS are on the line. That's a HUGE difference in motivation -- knowing that if you don't do this, or vote that, or raise X money, you won't eat come next November.

Going to a full-time legislature is the worst possible thing to do.

Also consider that it's not just the legislator's salaries that would go up as well -- because as professionals you'd have to pay them $80-90k+ to compete with the salaries they'd otherwise make -- but you'd see a huge increase in the number of staff at the LOB. The the legislature isn't in session, there's only a handful of permanent staff in the building. If the legislature is in session all the time, all these staffers -- and there are hundreds -- will be paid year-round.

And if the legislature won't be in session all the time, why pay a full-time salary?

The New York State Legislature is the only full-time one in the Northeast. Legislators start at $100k. And it's the most venal and inherently corrupt legislature in the U.S.

Anonymous said...

Right now all that can afford to be in the legislature are those who are wealthy already, housewives and househusbands, people with part-time jobs or those who have no job to speak of. In other words, the person who has a spouse and a family to support would not be able to run for state office. I guess my question is this: Isn't it supposed to be a citizen legislature?

NJ pays approx 55k and is 2-3 days a week when in session.

I just feel that we get what we pay for in Hartford, a group of people who don't represent the 'people' and pay attention 1/2 of the time!!

Anonymous said...

There are also plenty of those in Hartford with good to great full-time jobs that can't (by law)use the service in the legislature against those employees. So it is moonlighting for $30-40k while cutting down on your "real" job hours. To make it a full-time legislature would be a serious paycut for most of the current members, and would result in a far worse group of pols than we currently suffer through. Let the conflicts continue!

Anonymous said...

Whatever happened to public service jobs being less than in the private sector just because it is public service? The lobbyists spend something like #8 in the nation on our part timers and they do it for a reson. They get a nice return on their investments year after yaer. The issue is how do we get a state legislature that will deal with the real issues facing the average CT citizen (the one who doesn't have a lobbyist organiztion in Hartford or anywhere else)rather than just the lobbyist issues brought before them. Phony campaign finance reform legislation just perpetuated the situation.

Anonymous said...

Has there been a Moody sighting at the capitol today?

Brass Tacks said...

Amann is RIGHT.

Most state legislatures are part-time, and NO, I really disagree that Connecticut's status as part-time is a reflection of 1965.

The notion of "if we paid better then better candidates would run," is sadly not true. As others have pointed out... look at Albany and Boston. Our legislators, such as they are, run circles around those guys, and in half the time.

"themdems," more government is not necessarily good government. And how the GOP, lodged in the minority, could take advantage of a full-time legislature would be interesting, indeed.

I think Rep. McCluskey has a good point in the tendency of the lawmakers to fill the full-time space with more bills. As for "oversight," well, that's always the mantra of the Loyal Opposition, depending on who's governor. But in the wake of the last year, it's a more potent issue, for sure.

Public service SHOULD be a sacrifice, and any of the current problems we've had have not stemmed from the fact that this is a part-time General Assembly.

I'll admit... CTN is great entertainment value, but I really think a full-time legislature is a non-starter.

Happy New Year, y'all!

Anonymous said...

There's actually a law on the books which makes employment discrimination against candidates for and members of the general assembly illegal. I wonder if anyone has ever sued for protection under that statute so that they could hold down a straight job and take (unpaid) time off to be in Hartford.

turfgrrl said...

If the legislature is too act as management over the executive branch than, like in the real world, it should be a full time job. As it is, the all these "special sessions" show that the job is not being done on the part time basis.

Anonymous said...

If you think a professional legislature is the answer , ask someone how well it works in NY and CA.

CT is a small state in area and population. It should not be a full time job to cast a few votes in Hartford.

The frequency of special sessions says more about the "leadership" in the General Assembly, who procrastinate constantly on important issues, than anything else. Making them full time will just give them more time to waste

MikeCT said...

I don't have strong feelings one way or the other, but I don't understand how most people can be state legislators on a practical level. They get $28,000, so obviously they can't live on it. So how many "day jobs" allow you to take off at any time and any day of the week based on an unpredictable schedule of meetings, hearings, and sessions? Do you have a job like that? How many people can work all night during budget votes? How many have kids? This doesn't count community and constituent meetings and events, visibility, campaigning, fundraising, etc. I just don't know how anyone does it.

Anonymous said...

As a former staffer in the NYS Assembly and State Senate I feel it necessary to say a couple of things: NY State can not be used as an example of a full time state legislature, why?- because it isn’t. It is absolutely more of a full time job than the CT legislature; however the NYS Leg is not, by definition a full time legislature. Because of the pay and time commitment some members have made it a full time position whoever many members maintain full time employment outside the government.

The real problem with the NY Leg is its structure. Far too much power is concentrated in the hands of Speaker Sheldon Silver and Majority Leader Joe Bruno. As a member of a majority staff in the Assembly and a minority staff in the Senate I can say with little hesitation that the system is broken and that the majority it both houses have way too much power. In fact, NY was ranked the most dysfunctional State Leg in the nation (July 21, 2004, the Brennan Center released The New York State LegislativeProcess: An Evaluation and Blueprint for Reform) The entire Demcoratic Senate Campaign Committee Slate of challengers ran on a “Fix Albany” platform. Tom Suozzi campaign was literally titled “Fix Albany”

So in conclusion of my rant; NYS not a full time Leg. Problems with NY – not a result of having a full time or quasi-full time leg. CT would do well to have a full time legislature. CT faces serious problems and needs serious solutions and it needs people committed 100% to fixing them.

Anonymous said...

"The real problem with the (NY))CT) Leg is its structure. Far too much power is concentrated in the hands of Speaker (Sheldon Silver) (Jim Amann) and (Majority Leader Joe Bruno((President Pro Tem Don Williams)."

as David Byrne once sang ...

"We're on a road to nowhere..."

David said...

Having worked as an aide to a New York State Senator - Marty Connor -and being a CT State Representative, I believe there is no comparision between the two states in terms of power of their legislative leaders. NYS is run as a Triumvirate - Pataki, Bruno and Silver are almost equal in power. Until recently, you didn't have to be in the chamber to vote -why bother since as a rank and file legislator you have almost no imput into the product. All bills were negotiates between the Speaker and Senate President - they don't have joint committees in NY. When Shelly Silver had a challenge by a colleague over the weekend that rep and his supporters were marginalized - parking spaces, locks changed - it was very heavy handed. Compare that to when Moira Lyons was challenged by Jessie Stratton or Kevin Sullivan by Melodie Peters - much less retaliation to the losers and their supporters. Amann and Williams do have power, but it pales in comparison to NY legislative leaders.

Anonymous said...

turf girl got it right. And who was complaining their were no minorities on this blog?

Anonymous said...

Maybe municipalities could individually choose to individually support a legislators by choosing to put their State Reps and Senators on the municipal payroll as General Assembly liasons.

Conn-Tiki said...

I agree with you, GC. As for those who say "more government does not equal better government," well, I'm far from convinced that a full-time legislature would automatically be worse-off than a legislature that has to be called into special session every couple months. Although I think they would need a 27th Amendment for the State Constitution.