Tammy de la Cruz did not want to discourage her husband, 51 years old, from quitting the part-time job that he loved but she admitted it was not financially feasible for him to run in November.
Joe de la Cruz, a Democrat said to fellow House members that the retirement planner in her did not even need a calculator to do the math when he declared in February that he was not running for reelection. It's not enough to live on the $30,000 per year that we spend to perform this noble job, which we all love. It is not enough to retire on.
Similar complaints have been made by lawmakers in other states with part-time "citizens" legislatures. Three female Oregon state representatives, whose base salary is $33,000 per year, announced in March that they won't be seeking reelection as they couldn't afford to support themselves and their families with a part-time income for full-time work. In a joint resignation letter, they called the situation "unsustainable".
In 21 years, Connecticut legislators have not seen an increase of their $28,000 base salary.
Although the state's salary adjustments vary, several states have introduced bills to increase legislator pay this year. These included New Mexico, Georgia, Oregon and Oregon. New Mexico is the only unalaried legislature in the country. The bills have failed so far because some legislators fear that they will upset voters by approving pay increases.
Proponents of raises claim that higher salaries will lead to more diverse legislatures. However, it is not clear if this is the case. The American Political Science Review published a 2016 study that found "surprisingly little empirical support" that increasing salaries of politicians would encourage more people from the working class to run for office. Higher salaries don't make political office more appealing to workers, but they do make it more appealing to professionals with high salaries.
Arturo Vargas is the CEO of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. He believes that low salaries, combined with the threats and picketing received by some lawmakers and their families over issues such as COVID-19 rules will discourage people of modest means to run. This often includes people of color.
He said that it makes it harder for people who don’t have much time or need to rely on income in order to do their public service. It makes it a more restricted occupation for the wealthy. The wealthy tend to be whiter than those of color.
Washington Democratic Senator Mona Das, the daughter of Indian immigrants, was elected to Washington in 2018. She recently declared on Facebook that she is not running for reelection. She said that part of the reason is her inability to meet her financial obligations regarding the state Senate salary. Washington senators earn $56,881 per year, plus a per-diem to cover living expenses during session. The per diem went up from $120 per day to $185 per day this year, while the salary will increase to $57.876 by July 1.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 71% of state legislators this year are white. 9% of them are black, 6% Hispanic, and 2% Asian/Hawaiian. On average, legislative chambers are still dominated by men. Nationally, 29% of state legislators are women, compared to 25% five years ago.
The Millennial Action Project estimates that there are approximately 1,600 millennials and Gen Z members of Congress in each state legislature. Reggie Paros is the chief program officer of the nonpartisan organization that supports legislators born after 1980. He said that younger legislators haven't had enough time in the workforce to build the financial stability necessary to compensate for low-paying jobs.
Paros stated that the financial obstacle is one of the greatest obstacles to getting into public office.
Another potential deterrent is political polarization.
Peverill Squire is a professor of political science at Missouri. "It becomes harder to argue for a lot of people why they should put themselves in the political maelstrom at a significant cost to their families," he said.
His recent research into how and why legislatures change over the years has revealed a "greater variety on a range of diverse dimensions". For the first time, in Oregon, women were able to hold the majority of the seats in the state House of Representatives in 2021.
He said that "that change" might be harder to achieve in the future, if the compensation offered for legislative services is not up to the standard that most people would need during their working years to support their families and themselves.
De la Cruz, a union-sheet metal worker, said that there won't be any construction workers in Connecticut when he leaves office. He believes it is important for "laymen" to be represented at the state Capitol.
De la Cruz stated, "It's an enormous concern of mine." "Regular people, like regular workers, don't see value in the other working folks up above them." They don't realize that my voice...is about as close as they'll get to having a voice."
Connecticut Rep. Bob Godfrey (17-term Democrat) is a Danbury Democrat who has proposed legislation to increase salaries for at least five consecutive years. He recalled a plumber and a manufacturing assembly line worker serving alongside him in the House's early days. Godfrey said that he relies on Social Security and his legislative pay to pay his bills.
He said, "We don’t look like the State."
A New Mexico Senate panel approved a constitutional amendment to provide a salary for legislators. Currently, they receive a daily stipend amounting to $165 and travel expenses. Democratic Senator Katie Duhigg from Albuquerque claimed that a salary would "really increase the universe of people who can serve." Noting that the legislature is "largely made up of the wealthy and retired", action was delayed indefinitely on the proposal.
In Alaska, lawmakers rejected an earlier this year plan which would have increased their annual base salaries from $50,400 up to $64,000. It has not been modified since 2010. The same proposal would have set a daily limit of $307 per day for expenses such as food, lodging, and transportation at $100. It also required receipts to support claims. Some lawmakers complained that $100 would not be sufficient to cover the cost for living in Juneau (the state's capital) during session.
Sen. Mike Shower, a Republican hailing from Wasilla in Alaska, expressed concern about the negative effects of low pay in an open letter to the State Officers Compensation Commission. The commission proposed the revised per diem and salary plan.
He wrote that "if there isn’t a great compensation package", he asked, "how can we get decent public servants, who aren’t wealthy, retired, or have the luxury to have a spouse with a job good enough to support someone being a politician?"