By most accounts, this past session of Connecticut’s General Assembly was an abysmal, opaque legislative failure. Bills were rushed through the Chamber, public input and government transparency were trampled or ignored, and convoluted legislation has raised questions no one seems able to answer. I think our legislators deserve a raise.
That last sentence, of course, is entirely sarcastic. No one could possibly think that government officials in Connecticut need to be paid more and govern longer, right?
Well, a recent opinion piece in the Hartford Courant shows that at least one person in the state feels that way. Written by lawyer Matt Zagaja, the article entitled “Connecticut Deserves A Full-Time Legislature” reads, in part:
“For the most part, the people serving us in Hartford are good, and many are exceptionally good… 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… [B]y 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… 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.”
Mr. Zagaja’s argument is so fundamentally wrong that most readers can easily deconstruct it. For those who need some help, I will take it on point by point.
First and foremost, the notion that the people serving us in Hartford are, for the most part, “exceptionally good” is fallacy. Certainly there are legislators who are benevolent, and legislators who are good at legislating, but the number of legislators who are good at doing what is right for the state is incredibly small. Most are experts in doing what is best for them, a fact reflected in the state’s “Corrupticut” nickname.
A full-time legislature would merely allow the self-serving more opportunity for personal gain. The issues faced in this session were not institutional but rather individual. The gun law was not covertly voted on, without public forum, due to time constraints. Comptroller Kevin Lembo’s transparency bill was not ignored by Senate leadership because of strategic prioritizing.
Rather, these bills succeeded or died because of calculated political decisions. Time constraints are important because, theoretically, they should limit legislation to that which is strictly necessary. The longer the General Assembly is in session, the greater the burden of government on the backs of Connecticut citizens.
Mr. Zagaja’s own example should point to this fact. By arguing that Connecticut should join Massachusetts and New York in instituting a full-time legislature, the author is pointing to two of the worst nanny states in the nation. The state legislatures in Massachusetts and New York are constantly interfering in the lives of their citizens, with devastating results. Despite their size and the presence of two large cities, our northern and western neighbors rank 29th and 49th in the nation, respectively, with regard to ALEC-Laffer’s 2013 State Economic Outlook.
So, if Mr. Zagaja wants to party with our neighbors at the bottom of the barrel, a full-time, amply-paid legislature is the way to go. For those who want to see Connecticut rise to the top once again, the current legislature serves as an impediment, not a solution.