Proposal to cut legislative pay stalls right out of the gate

A proposal to cut state legislators’ pay by 10 percent stalled as soon as it was raised Thursday.

The Compensation Commission for Elected State Officers and Judges, an obscure legislative advisory panel that typically meets only once or twice at the start of each, two-year legislative term, quickly dispatched the proposal, which came from one of its newest members.

Plainville Republican Justin Bernier, who lost this past fall’s 5th Congressional District contest to incumbent Democrat Chris Murphy, recommended the cut, calling it a good chance for the legislature to lead by example.

“The governor has made it clear there are going to be sacrifices,” Bernier said, referring to the “shared sacrifice” theme Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has cited frequently when referring to the solutions he will offer next month to close a projected $3.7 billion budget deficit for 2011-12.

That budget could include tax hikes, programmatic cuts, state employee wage and benefit concessions, public-sector job cuts – or more likely a combination of all, Bernier said. A 10 percent pay cut by all lawmakers “would be an important first step. It would send the right message.”

Legislators, who last received a raise in 2001, earn a base salary of $28,000, though more than half receive additional funds for holding leadership posts.

Total compensation is $32,241 for assistant leaders and committee chairmen, $34,446 for deputy leaders, $36,835 for the majority and minority leaders, and $38,689 for the House speaker and Senate president pro tempore.

In addition, all representatives receive another $4,5o0 and all senators another $5,500 for miscellaneous expenses that do not have to be documented.

Bernier’s proposal was not seconded by any others on the 11-member commission, which is comprised of appointees by past governors and current legislative leaders.

Bloomfield attorney Lewis Rome, the panel’s chairman, said such a proposal only would weaken the group’s credibility by engaging in a partisan debate.

Majority Democrats in the legislature blocked Republican efforts to reduce legislative pay during the last legislative session.

“I’m not putting the pie in their face,” Rome said. “They know what their responsibility is.”

Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, who appointed Bernier to the compensation panel, added afterward that many in the private sector have forfeited far more than 10 percent of their pay, and warned that minority Republicans in the legislature may revisit the idea of a salary cut before the 2011 session ends in June.