To effect change, Connecticut needs to pay legislators a living wage

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“Still revolutionary?” Hardly! Connecticut isn’t the least bit revolutionary. But it could be if we stopped preventing good people with good ideas from running for office by making it impossible for them to support their families.

No matter how many editorials are written about how great Connecticut is, the general consensus continues to be that when people are given the opportunity to leave they do so. Yes, we are one of the richest states in the U.S., but we also have one of the worst levels of economic inequality. We all probably have a few places in mind in the world that we would like to move to, but what I’d rather do is fix my home state.

We are losing the people who matter, the masses, the common people, in exchange for a few more wealthy residents who don’t contribute enough in taxes to support the rest of the state’s needs, especially with conservatives and supposed liberals alike supporting tax cuts for the wealthy. Pundits and politicians talk regularly about how we need to make changes, yet nothing ever really changes. Year after year the same tired policies get pushed.

We keep giving tax breaks to those who really don’t need them, but hurt those who need the most help. We keep bringing up the same tired ideas like tolls or painful budget- cutting measures, while other possibilities languish and are ignored. Instead of discussing closing schools and cutting programs, we should be building them up! We should be fighting to revitalize our communities!

There are many different things that we could be doing, but none of it will get done because our legislature is too insulated. There are no new ideas because there are no new people. Why? State legislators in Connecticut only earn $28,000 per year. In one of the most expensive places to live in this country our legislators earn the equivalent of around $13.50 an hour, and that’s only if you pretend they only work 40 hour work weeks.

How can we expect to get real change if the vast majority of residents can’t afford to run for office? The only people who can currently afford to become legislators fall into one of three basic categories. First, there are the independently wealthy who don’t need to worry about an income. Second, we have those who have spouses who make a good amount of money, and while these people might be somewhat more in tune with their constituents they still are a minority of the population. Finally, there are those who have no families or other major financial obligations that would preclude them from working for so little.

Ultimately, this is killing our state. The vast majority of people living here, even if they have the perfect prescription for making this state first class, cannot afford to do the job. This has to change if we want real change in Connecticut. I myself would love to run, but I could never support my family of five on $28,000 per year.

I understand that with the budget issues that some might scoff at the idea of paying legislators more, which is why I already have a compromise bill in mind. For those who fall into the first two categories of people who are already in the state legislature or are thinking of running, they still only get $28,000 per year. They obviously don’t need it. However, for anyone else interested, we should pay a real salary for the work that they do.

The $70,000 – $80,000 range would put Connecticut as one of the highest paying states, and it would allow those who have new ideas for how to change the state for the better to actually consider running for an office. We need to make it so that average people are able to run for office. Then we’ll finally have a legislature with sufficient enough turnover that the same old people with the same old ideas that don’t work will be gone and Connecticut can shine again.

Mark Harvey is a business analyst from Durham.


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