The General Assembly’s Appropriations Committee approved a three-year contract between Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration and the Connecticut State Police that will increase troopers’ wages nine percent by 2018 while removing the prospect of longevity pay for new recruits.
Longevity pay comes in the form of biannual bonuses that increase every five years once a trooper reaches the 10-year qualifying anniversary. The state police union’s concession means no trooper hired after July 1 will be entitled to longevity pay unless they have a record of wartime service. Most state employee unions conceded in 2011 to end longevity pay for any new employees.
Sandra Fae Brown of the Office of Policy and Management’s labor relations group told committee members that phasing out longevity pay could eventually reap $1.3 million per year in savings.
The raise schedule consists of a 3 percent wage increase in July followed by a 2 percent increase in 2016. The following year would see a 1 percent increase in January and a 2 percent increase in July. A final 1 percent increase would come in January 2018.
Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, said he appreciated the creative approach to spreading out the raises — but he wondered if the state’s ballooning budget deficit could sustain a contract that increases costs $4.5 million the first year, $9.1 million the second year, and $14.5 million the third year.
Formica, one of two senators and 18 representatives who did not vote to approve the contract, said he had hoped to postpone his decision until later in the day. First, he wanted to listen to testimony at a public hearing scheduled immediately afterward, which included requests from various state agencies for more money to get them through the fiscal year.
Formica noted in an interview Tuesday afternoon that the first-year cost estimates for the contract happened to coincide with the amount of this year’s projected shortfall in the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection.
A Connecticut State Police Union memo to its 1,076 members said the move to approve the collective bargaining agreement was approved by 99 percent of union voters.
Sgt. Andrew Matthews, the union’s president, said his group has a history of making significant concessions during difficult budget years.
“Separate from the sacrifices we have made within our contracts, we have assisted the state police in providing optimal police services with nearly 160 fewer troopers than we had in recent years,” Matthews testified. “State troopers’ willingness to work long hours and do more with less is crucial to helping the state cut costs.”
Matthews bristled at the suggestion by lawmakers, including state Sen. Rob Kane, R-Watertown, that the troopers’ off duty use of state police vehicles might be an unnecessary expense to the taxpayers.
The state tried to limit troopers’ personal use of their cruisers during 2013 negotiations that went into arbitration, but the arbitrator ruled the move could reduce the number of off-duty police available to respond to emergencies. The contract before the Appropriations Committee on Tuesday did not include such a provision.
Matthews said 24/7 access to the vehicles supplements insufficient patrol coverage, especially in the northwest and northeast corners of the state.
He estimated that the state saves millions of dollars each year because of off-the-clock backup that is necessary because “we don’t have enough patrol coverage for 500 square miles where we have very few troopers.”
The negotiated agreement also eliminates a step from the pay plan that incrementally increases the pay of each trooper, sergeant, and master sergeant across a salary range of $50,000-$80,000. Removing one of the 11 steps will allow troopers to reach the top threshold more quickly, according to Matthews.
Matthews said progress up the step ladder has been slowed by past contract negotiations. While troopers typically rise a step each year, the union has sometimes conceded the increase in the past.
“We’ve had members go 14 or 15 years before they get to the top step,” Matthews said.
The contract also formalizes an arrangement already in place through a memorandum of understanding that gives Matthews full-time paid leave to perform his union duties.
State Rep. Mitch Bolinsky, R-Newtown, told fellow lawmakers he wants to support the troopers but hates the contract. “I have misgivings about how well the state was represented in the negotiations,” he said.
While state statute dictates that the General Assembly may reject the contract by a two-thirds vote of either house if it determines that the state can’t afford it, history has shown that passage through the Appropriations Committee means smooth sailing for the contract.
Based on the date the agreement was received by the Clerk of the House, the General Assembly has until May 2 to take up the issue if it so chooses. If not, it is automatically ratified.
Meanwhile, the governor’s budget includes a cut to that will require municipalities with resident state troopers to foot the entire cost of the program, so it’s not clear where that leaves the negotiations for the increase in the contract, or whether municipal officials had any input in the negotiation.
Currently, the state pays about 30 percent of the costs associated with resident state troopers. The town where the trooper is stationed pays the remaining 70 percent. Malloy proposed eliminating the state’s share of the cost, shifting about $4.6 million onto towns that use the program as an alternative to having a municipal police force.
But small towns say the reduction will have a large impact on their budgets and several legislators representing smaller communities objected to the cut.