Sunday, April 1, 2007

Big Hours, or Big Paycheck?

While serving as Speaker, Rep. Jim Amann has been a fundraiser for the Connecticut chapter of the Multiple Sclerosis Society, strong-arming lobbyists that have business before him to donate to the charity he works for. In other words, he makes money by getting lobbyists, whose livelihoods depend on his decisions, to contribute to the charity that pays him. This is known as a conflict of interest.

When questions of the impropriety of this kind of activity were directed at the indignant speaker, he either directly blamed Governor Rell’s Chief of Staff Lisa Moody for initiating this “personal attack” against him, or launched into a canned play act, turning down the corners of his mouth to imitate emotion, stating he is proud to do anything and everything he can to help victims of Multiple Sclerosis.

While his ethical lapse and his stubborn denial of wrongdoing can be ascribed to many things such as greed, arrogance or indifference to the law, some might say his hiding behind a charity and the sick people it helps to enrich himself is detestable.

Amann requested an opinion on the propriety of his dealings from the State Ethics Commission. Sensing he would be ruled against, he attempted to politically inoculate himself by announcing he would willingly give up soliciting from lobbyists. His instincts were correct; the Ethics Commission ruled this past week that this was a conflict of interest.

While this set of facts is interesting on its own, the public policy debate it has launched is deeply fascinating. Some legislators have seized on this opportunity, suggesting that conflicts such as that which embroiled the speaker would be eliminated by making the state legislature full-time, as opposed to the part-time job it now is.

State legislators get paid in the low $30k range right now, with leaders and committee chairs making a few thousand more.

Well, let’s examine who the chief advocates of a full-time legislature are. Perhaps most prominent is Chris Caruso (D-Bridgeport). Caruso has no other job to speak of, unless it is the profes
sional demagoguery he engages in as an insufferable, pompous gas bag. And I think when I say “gas bag,” we all know I’m talking the Hefty three-ply lawn debris strength cinch-sack variety. Bestowing a full-time job on himself would allow him, as a 40-something man, to finally move out of his mother’s basement, and buy a car.

There are others such a move would help. Pitiable legislative lightweights and former Democratic legislative staffers who were elected to vacated House seats, and who appear to be little more than 12-year old boys going to work in their dad’s ill-fitting suits would clearly get a much-needed financial shot in the arm. Not to mention the higher self-esteem! And man, you just can’t put a price tag on that!

Let’s not fool ourselves. Advocates for a “full-time legislature” are really advocates of a HIGHLY PAID legislature. I have significant doubts that these advocates intend to work more hours. They just want to be paid so much that they don’t need to pull deals like Amann did to make an ordinary living, and if possible an extraordinary living.

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