Connecticut State Capitol

Connecticut State Capitol (Photo Phiend / via Flickr / August 6, 2013)

For the most part, the people serving us in Hartford are good, and many are exceptionally good. They are so good that when Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was elected, he plucked legislators like Sen. Andrew McDonald and Rep. Mike Lawlor to serve in his administration.

However, we have seen too many talented people decline to run for the state legislature, instead campaigning for more prestigious federal or statewide positions.

According to the National Conference of State Legislators, 10 states have legislatures that operate full time or nearly full time. It is time for the Connecticut General Assembly to join its exceptional brothers and sisters in New York and Massachusetts and move to operating full time.

Of course a full-time legislature would come with a salary increase for its members. For taxpayers, this would be an investment worth making. Harvard Law School professor and political reform advocate Larry Lessig endorses paying public servants a decent wage as a way to discourage corruption. State legislators, like their federal counterparts, could then be required to limit their outside income to eliminate real or perceived conflicts of interest.

The financial security of a decent income would also reduce the problems that cause people to engage in questionable activity. We may not eliminate all corruption, but we can curb the incentives and implement rules that make it less likely.

Additionally, the higher salary would increase the prestige of the position and attract high-caliber people who have otherwise declined to run for office. Corporate America knows that to attract high-quality workers, you must pay high-quality wages. Countries like Singapore pay their teachers as much as attorneys and engineers, and as a result they have attained some of the highest educational achievement in the world. Yet somehow the legislature and taxpayers in Connecticut believe they are exempt from this rule.

There is currently little incentive for a Connecticut resident making the median $65,400 a year to run against a state representative and take a $37,000 pay cut if the challenger wins. Although public financing has made campaigning a more feasible endeavor for the average person, the sacrifice at the end of the journey is still greater than the reward. Realistically, how many normal jobs allow you to take half a year off for a legislative session? The low salary only allows people in flexible professions, those willing to live with low pay, or the independently wealthy and retirees to serve without large personal sacrifice.

Finally, by paying lawmakers more, the legislature could free itself from the artificial deadlines that have hamstrung its ability to tackle the state's largest problems. A full-time legislature could go through the full procedure without leaving questions about the propriety of its process. Controversies about emergency certification and the mysterious materialization of keno in state law would become things of the past. Having extra days and months to get these right, along with giving the legislature time to face challenges that have been neglected, would be a worthwhile investment for taxpayers.

I have seen too many of my peers move to Massachusetts and New York to start their careers and unleash their talents. Places like California and Massachusetts have full-time legislatures, and they house environments where the brightest entrepreneurs are tackling our toughest problems.

If others see us working hard on fixing our biggest problems year-round instead of deferring them, they will have more confidence in Connecticut's future. They will want to move here, start families, build businesses and cement a foundation that assures this state's prosperity for the next hundred years.

Matt Zagaja, a lawyer, has worked on many campaigns, most recently Matthew Nemerson's campaign for mayor of New Haven.

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