Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo
Rep. Michael D’Agostino, D-Hamden (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo)

HARTFORD, CT — Despite objections that it’s unaffordable, an arbitration award for the newly formed Assistant Attorneys General union passed the House and Senate Wednesday.

The House voted 77-61 with eight Democrats joining Republicans in voting against the measure. The Senate later voted 19-17 with three Democrats joining Republicans in voting against it.

The debate Wednesday focused mostly on giving 14 department heads within the Attorney General’s office $6,000 stipends in 2020 and $12,000 stipends in 2021. Those stipends are on top of 3.5 percent wage increases and 2 percent “step” increases over the next two years for all 200 assistant attorney generals. The total cost of the award is $3.3 million over the next two years.

As far as the bonuses for the 14 department heads were concerned, the state had proposed a sliding scale based on the number of employees each department head managed starting with $1,500 a year. The union countered with a flat $6,000 in 2020 and $12,000 in 2021 regardless of how many employees worked under each department head, and the arbiter sided with the unions.

“Do you know how long it takes for a regular working person in this state to make an extra $12,000?” Rep. Doug Dubitsky, R-Chaplin, said.

“We’re giving this money away as if it’s not coming out of someone’s pocket,” Dubitsky said.

He said these are bonuses being given to people who make more than $114,000 a year.

Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo
Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-Wilton (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo)

Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-Wilton, said she doesn’t know how this award is in the best interest of the taxpayers of Connecticut.

The bonuses will be included as part of their pension calculation.

“It’s not about whether they deserve this,” Rep. Tom O’Dea, R-New Canaan, said. “It’s about what the state can afford.”

O’Dea said the assistant attorney generals deserve much more than the state is paying them, but the state doesn’t have the money.

On the other hand rejecting the award could also be costly.

It would cost $350 a day for an arbiter to look at the contract again. O’Dea said the legislature also needs to change the arbitration rules.

“They go toe-to-toe every day with the most powerful corporations and law firms in the world, and they win,’’ Rep. Michael D’Agostino, D-Hamden, said. “It is well worth it. These folks pay for themselves.’‘

Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo
Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, and Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, said the agreement doesn’t jibe with Gov. Ned Lamont’s stated stance on the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition agreement.

They said if he truly believes in labor savings then Lamont should encourage lawmakers to vote against this award.

“This contract continues to perpetuate the very policies you have identified as directly contributing to our state’s crushing fixed costs,” Fasano and Formica wrote in a letter to Lamont. “It contains the same benefits you believe should be altered in existing contracts.”

In his response to Fasano and Formica, Lamont said the prior administration opposed the stipends for the 14 department heads and “we believe they adequately defended the state’s interest, position and financial ability to pay during that proceeding.”

“While we respectfully disagree with many aspects of the arbitrator’s decision pertaining to the Department Head stipends, we also recognize the inherent risks associated with sending this award back to arbitration,” Lamont wrote. “We trust you and your colleagues in the Legislature will carefully deliberate and weigh all of these factors when carrying out your statutory responsibility to accept or reject the awards.”

Formica said the salary increases and stipends amount to a 10.8 percent pay increase for the assistant attorney generals and a 20 percent increase for department heads.

“This is not the type of percentages we should be giving out regardless of the quality of work,” Formica said.

Fasano pointed to some information from former Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration to prove his point.

He quoted testimony that Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes gave during arbitration proceedings last year. Barnes said Connecticut can’t afford the contract.

He said Barnes pointed out that Connecticut’s credit rating had been downgraded nine times in eight years and that Connecticut had the fourth highest tax burden per capita of all the states. Barnes told arbiters that Connecticut residents pay 15.6 percent of their income in taxes, the second highest rate in the country.

In arguing that the state didn’t have the ability to pay, the state cited $80 billion in long-term obligations, mostly related to state employee health and pension benefits.

The union argued the state’s ability to pay must be weighed against the union concessions made in the 2017 SEBAC agreement.

Fasano said there’s nothing in the evidence to support the union’s position, and the matter should go back to arbitration.

“Perhaps Ben Barnes is right when he says ‘we cannot afford this contract’,” Fasano said.