Jake McPhail ’24
The Trinity College Legislative Internship Program allows students who are interested in politics to spend a semester working under a legislator in the Connecticut General Assembly. Interns are either full-time or part-time, receiving two or four credits for their time in the program. I am a full-time intern at the Speaker’s Office and spend 9-5 Monday through Friday at the Connecticut State Capitol, just a five-minute drive down the street from campus. This semester has offered me an invaluable experience that has been the highlight of my college career thus far, and I encourage anyone interested to apply.
During the first few days of my time there, my eyes glossed over with awe as I admired the grand gothic architecture of the capitol building, and I was fascinated by being in the company of the legislators toiling inside. However, as time went on and I became more acquainted with the reality of how our state government works, I became somewhat less enthused.
During the first day of the session, after all of the representatives packed into the House, I was surprised to hear the announcement of the retirement of two veteran legislators: Representative David Arconti of Danbury (D) and Representative Joe de la Cruz of Groton and New London (D). However, what was more surprising was to learn that the reason for their retirement was inadequate pay.
For some context, state legislators can earn a salary as high as $120,000 annually in New York and as little as $0 in New Mexico, which puts the salary for Connecticut state representatives ($28,000) on the lower end of the national spectrum. There have been cries to increase pay from people like Arconti and de la Cruz, but there has not been an increase since 2001. It is now a mere $44,000 adjusted with inflation.
This begs the question: why does the legislature not give itself a raise? Is it not in the legislators’ best interest? In short, it is political suicide: someone challenging you during the next campaign cycle can easily cite you giving yourself a raise to label you as a greedy or corrupt politician, and voters eat it up.
The unfortunate reality is that the majority of Americans do not even know who their state legislator is, let alone the dynamics of their position or their salary. This ignorance is subsequently preyed upon during election season.
This situation has cursed legislators in Connecticut to go without a raise for 21 years, driving more and more people from the profession and making it much more inaccessible for those who do not already have the means to supplement that income outside of their work as a legislator.
When a government body only attracts the independently wealthy, it makes it impossible to represent the constituencies that they represent accurately. This becomes abundantly clear when pulling into the capitol parking garage and seeing the cars within: either old rusted Buicks or brand-new Teslas.
This could be changing, though, with recent cries growing louder and louder and Speaker Ritter recently remarking that he would support a measure to increase pay if over 50% of both chambers do; however, this change likely will not be coming this year, given it is an election year and the dynamics I previously mentioned.
This said, hopefully the General Assembly can muster up the courage to raise their pay and attract a new diverse group of representatives before they lose any more of the talented legislators they have accumulated already.