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Some state lawmakers, who call it leaving, cannot afford to serve

HARTFORD, Connecticut – When trying to decide whether to run for a fourth term in the House of Representatives of Connecticut, MP Joe de la Cruz asked his wife, whom he jokingly calls his lawyer and financial adviser.

While Tammy de la Cruz did not want to discourage her 51-year-old husband from retiring from the part-time job he loved, she acknowledged that it made no financial sense for him to run again in November.

“Her retirement plan did not even have to use a calculator to do the calculations,” said Joe de la Cruz, a Democrat who told colleagues in the House when he announced in February that he was not running for re-election. “The $ 30,000 a year we make to do this remarkable job, the one we all really care about, is really not enough to live on. That’s really not enough to retire. “

Lawmakers in other states, often those with “civilian” part-time legislators, have raised similar complaints. In Oregon, where the base salary is about $ 33,000 a year, three women states said in March that they were not seeking re-election because they could not afford to support their families on an hourly basis for what really worked. full time. They called the situation “unstable” in a joint letter of resignation.

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Connecticut lawmakers have not seen an increase in their basic salary of $ 28,000 in 21 years.

Although it varies from state to state to how salaries are adjusted, bills to increase lawmakers’ pay have been proposed in several states this year, including Connecticut, Georgia, Oregon and New Mexico, the nation’s only pay-free legislature. So far, bills have fluctuated, with some lawmakers afraid to irritate voters by approving their own wage increases.

It is also unclear whether higher wages ultimately lead to more diversified legislatures, something that proponents of wage increases say are at risk. A 2016 study published in the American Political Science Review found that there was “surprisingly little empirical evidence” that raising politicians’ salaries would encourage more working-class people to run for office. The study found that higher wages do not seem to make the political position more attractive to workers; it seems to make it more attractive to professionals who are already earning high salaries. ”

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Arturo Vargas, chief executive of the National Association of Elected and Appointed Latin American Officials, said he believed low pay, combined with threats and pickets from some lawmakers and their families on issues such as COVID-19 rules, would discourage people. with modest means of running. And that often means people of color.

“This makes it more challenging for people who do not have much free time and have to rely on income to be able to perform their public services,” he said. “And that makes it a profession that is becoming more and more limited to the rich. And the rich in this country are usually whiter than the colored. “

In Washington, Democratic Sen. Mona Das, a child of Indian immigrants who was first elected in 2018, recently announced on Facebook that he was not running for re-election. Part of the reason, she said, was the difficulty she had in meeting her financial payroll obligations in the U.S. Senate. Senators in Washington earn $ 56,881 a year plus a living wage to offset the cost of living when the legislature meets. That daily jumped from $ 120 a day to $ 185 a day this year, while salary is scheduled to increase to $ 57,876 on July 1.

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This year, approximately 71% of state lawmakers are white, 9% black, 6% Spanish, and 2% Asian or Hawaiian, according to the National Conference of State Legislators. Legislative chambers continue to be moderately male-dominated. Nationwide, about 29% of state lawmakers are women, up from about 25% five years ago.

There are approximately 1,600 Millennium Z and Generation Z people serving in state legislatures and Congress across the country, and the Millennial Action Project says that number has grown in recent years. Reggie Paros, program director of the non-partisan organization supporting lawmakers and members of Congress born after 1980, said younger lawmakers had not been in the workforce long enough to establish the financial stability needed to compensate for low pay. legislative work.

“This financial barrier is one of the biggest struggles for public office,” Paros said.

Political polarization is another potential deterrent for new entrants.

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“I think it’s getting harder for many people to argue that they have to get into the political whirlpool of what can cost their families a lot,” said Peveril Squire, a professor of political science at the University of Missouri.

His research on how and why legislators change over time has revealed “greater diversity in a number of different dimensions” in recent years. In Oregon, for example, women took most of the seats in the State House for the first time in 2021.

“But this change,” he said, “may be more difficult to achieve in the future if, in fact, the compensation often offered for legislative services lags behind what most people need to support themselves during their working years. and their families. “

When De la Cruz, a sheet metal union, left the office, he said there would be no hired construction workers to serve in the Connecticut General Assembly, let alone someone who worked as a cashier at Walmart or a gas station employee. He said it was important that these “lay” voices be represented in the state’s Capitol.

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“This is a huge concern for me,” de la Cruz said. “Ordinary people, like ordinary working people, they don’t see the value in other working people out there for them … They don’t understand that my voice … is about as close to the voice they go to.”

Connecto . Godfrey, who relies on his legislative pay and Social Security to pay his bills, said he feared the lack of blue collars “distorted the policy of the wealthy” in Connecticut.

“We don’t look like the state,” he said.

In New Mexico, a Senate committee this year approved a proposed constitutional amendment to provide a salary to lawmakers who currently collect a daily stipend of approximately $ 165 during legislative sessions and for travel. Democrat Sen. Katie Dahig of Albuquerque said the salary “will really expand the universe of people who can serve”, noting that the legislature is “largely the rich and the retired”. But the action on the proposal was postponed indefinitely.

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Earlier this year in Alaska, lawmakers rejected a plan that would raise their annual base salary from $ 50,400 to $ 64,000. It hasn’t changed since 2010. But the same proposal would have limited their daily allowance to $ 307 a day for expenses such as food and lodging to $ 100 and required receipts for claims. Some lawmakers complained that $ 100 would not be enough to cover the cost of living in Juneau, the state capital, during the session.

Senator Mike Shawer, a Republican from Vasila, Alaska, expressed concern about the consequences of low pay in a letter to the Civil Service Compensation Commission, which proposed a revised plan for salaries and wages.

“If there is no good compensation package,” he writes, “how do we get decent civil servants who are not rich, retired, or have the luxury of a husband with a good enough job to support someone to be a legislator?”

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Writers at the Associated Press Rachel La Corte in Olympia, Washington; Morgan Lee in Santa Fe, New Mexico; Andrew Rural in Salem, Oregon; and Becky Borer of Juneau, Alaska, contributed to this report.

Copyright 2022 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

Some state lawmakers, who call it leaving, cannot afford to serve

Source link Some state lawmakers, who call it leaving, cannot afford to serve

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