Troopers back Rowland as he negotiates benefits
‘… [T]he governor recently supported a new, $80 million radio system and mobile data terminals for state police.’
Oct. 21, 2002
Republican Gov. John G. Rowland was expected to receive a key endorsement today from the union representing Connecticut’s state troopers.
But while many state employees are fearful the 2002-03 budget’s growing deficit will force concessions and layoffs, Rowland is talking with state police about boosting tuition reimbursement and pay incentives for troopers with college degrees, according to sources and a memo obtained by the Journal Inquirer.
“Everyone agrees that at this point in our history, enhancing public safety should be a top priority,” Rowland campaign spokesman Dean Pagani said today. “This is what the governor is doing, trying to improve the quality of our state police force.”
The Rowland campaign also noted the governor recently supported a new, $80 million radio system and mobile data terminals for state police.
Police traditionally have a very high approval rating among voters, and this union’s endorsement is considered one of the most valuable from labor, among many political observers.
The union’s president, Trooper Mark M. Wallack, told rank-and-file members in an Oct. 16 memo that “the union is currently working with the governor” to enhance education-related benefits.
The union’s contract, which runs through June 2004, currently reimburses troopers for 33 percent of any tuition costs they incur. That contract also doesn’t award troopers with college degrees a higher salary than those of equal rank and seniority with only high school diplomas.
Rowland and the troopers union already reached an agreement this fall to increase significantly the benefits for troopers hurt on the job.
The accord — known informally as the Reidy Agreement after 14-year veteran Trooper James Reidy of Somers, who was permanently disabled five years ago in a shoot out with a deranged man in Willington — ensures that injured troopers receive a retirement rate based on the top-step master sergeant’s pay of $70,970 annually. That’s the highest position covered under the state police union contract.
A similar retirement package was proposed by public safety administration officials in the last legislative session. It floated for a while, but never made it to the legislative floor.
Those working on the bill concluded it was not proper to submit at a time when the General Assembly was looking for budget cuts and proponents were having difficulty sketching an approximate cost to the state.
Officials planned to reintroduce the proposal next session, but the union wasn’t about to wait.
It would have taken years and not helped those already injured, Wallack said at the time.
The new agreement provides Reidy, who will retire this year, with annual benefits of $62,678, rather than the $37,210 he had expected.
The agreement also benefits five other injured troopers who have retired since 1994, paying them between $1,500 and $14,800 more per year in retirement benefits.
The new rate depends on when the trooper was hired and his or her placement within the various tiers of available benefits.
The police union’s board of directors voted 24-1 to endorse Rowland, according to Wallack’s memo. He also wrote that the lone dissenting director “indicated that we should remain neutral,” but that director isn’t named.
Efforts to boost benefits for state police come, though, as other state workers are bracing for the worst.
State officials already have applied $127 million in Anthem stock sales to this year’s state budget, even though state workers claim they have a right to benefit from that windfall, since Connecticut received Anthem stock because workers purchased the health insurance.
Both lawmakers and Rowland administration officials also have said that at least $100 million in mid-year savings that must be found in this year’s state budget will likely have to come from some sacrifice by state workers.
This year’s $13.2 billion state budget already is $390 million in the red — a shortfall that’s likely to grow by several hundred million dollars as state income-tax revenues shrink.
Rowland’s Democratic opponent, former state Comptroller William E. Curry Jr., criticized Rowland’s arrangement with the troopers union.
“The governor offers concessions when his budget assumes cuts — not addbacks — to state employees?” said Curry, who’s been endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police and many municipal police unions.
While state police certainly deserve better benefits, Curry said, the midst of a campaign is “the worst place, the last place, you do collective bargaining.”
Pagani responded that “it’s unfortunate that Mr. Curry has been going around trying to scare state employees about layoffs or cutbacks.”
The spokesman noted that Rowland and legislative leaders haven’t met yet to craft a budget-balancing plan. Until that happens, Pagani said, “It’s premature to talk about layoffs and concessions.”
Curry has his own close ties with some state and local government employee unions, including large bargaining units representing health care workers and public school teachers.
Rowland has accused Curry of being behind a demonstration that the New England Health Care Employees Union District 1199 conducted last month outside the governor’s residence in Hartford. Curry denied any connection to the Sept. 12 protest, which focused on a statewide nursing shortage.
© 2002 Journal Inquirer, Manchester, Conn. All rights reserved. Republished with permission.