The Democrat-controlled General Assembly quietly inserted two 3.5 percent raises for hundreds of legislative employees into the two-year budget it approved over a week ago, a move that would increase taxpayers’ costs by up to $2 million between now and mid-2021, officials confirmed in recent days.
If the pay hikes totaling 7 percent for the nearly 420 legislative employees had been debated publicly during the final deliberations of the 2019 legislative session that ended June 5, they might have been a sensitive subject — as lawmakers were deciding what further financial sacrifices Connecticut citizens will be asked to make in dealing with the state government’s seemingly perpetual fiscal crisis.
But they weren’t part of the the late-session debate at the Capitol complex in Hartford, and they haven’t been mentioned by any of the legislative leaders in celebratory press conferences such as Senate Democrats’ “End of Session Report” this past Monday about their accomplishments in areas such as gun safety and education that make this state “A Connecticut for All.”
In fact, it’s hard to actually tell, by reading the two-year, $43-billion budget measure, that two years’ worth of raises were approved for legislators’ nonunionized partisan caucus staffs, along with nonpartisan legislative employees who range from the offices of Legislative Research and Fiscal Analysis to committee administrators to state Capitol police.
That’s the way things happen at the Capitol complex, where the word “transparency” is incessantly preached but roundly ignored.
There were a couple of other significant episodes of nontransparency at the end of the session, which we’ll get to. But first, the legislative staff raises.
Deep within the budget bill — which Democrats pushed through the House and Senate without any Republican votes — is Section 46, which says that effective on July 1, “the Office of Legislative Management shall apply terms consistent with those contained in section I (c) of Attachment F to the ratified 2017 SEBAC agreement, dated June 25, 2017, between the state and the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition ... to nonpartisan legislative employees for the fiscal years ending June 30, 2020, and June 30, 2021.”
So you Google that SEBAC agreement, which is the contract the Malloy administration negotiated with the unionized state workforce, and you find Section I (c) of Attachment F, which says the unionized workers will receive 3.5 percent raises for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 fiscal years, which are the 12-month periods starting July 1, about two weeks from now, and on July 1, 2020.
The idea is to give legislative employees the same raises that the unions negotiated in 2017. But it’s more complicated than that — because, if you’ll notice, Section 46 says to apply the terms of the unionized workers’ raises to “nonpartisan legislative employees." Those nonpartisan employees make up only 193 of the legislature’s nearly 420 employees.
The other 220-plus are partisan employees of the four legislative caucuses, House and Senate Democrats, and House and Senate Republicans. These are the legislative aides and staffs and press secretaries, and all the others who attend to the needs of the 36 senators and 151 House members, such as seeing to the production of the Senate Democrats’ nine-page, color-printed “End of Session Report" from Monday.
If Section 46 of the budget bill leaves out the partisan 220, why will they be getting raises? Government Watch asked that question to Jim Tamburro, the executive director of the Office of Legislative Management. He answered that raises for all 420 or so legislative employees — both partisan and nonpartisan — were in the budget he submitted to the office of Gov. Ned Lamont, and the governor’s office included an allotment for the two 3.5 percent pay hikes for all 420. “Whether or not it was written in Section 46, we would have it in our budget,” Tamburro said in a phone interview on Thursday.
He said he is making preparations to implement the raises effective July 1, which should first show up in paychecks in mid-July, in anticipation of Lamont’s signing the budget into law. Mentioning the nonpartisan legislative employees in Section 46 eliminates a little red tape in that he doesn’t have to seek out legislative leaders in all four partisan caucuses to sign off on the nonpartisan raises. “It means that I don’t have to get a signature from the leadership,” said Tamburro, whose $161,600 annual salary is about $13,000 below the $174,585 of the highest-paid legislative employee, Senate Democrats’ chief of staff Vincent Mauro Jr.
Sources inside the legislative caucuses weren’t even sure this week that the raises would be going to both partisan and nonpartisan people — and so Government Watch asked Tamburro how recently he’d confirmed all 420 would get the raises, despite the Section 46 language. He said he’d confirmed his understanding this week with “the chiefs of staff of all four caucuses.”
So that, it seems, is that. The legislators didn’t dare raise their own pay at a time like this, but they’re taking care of their staff people. The total of the legislative employees’ annual salaries is about $31 million, and 3.5 percent of that is just over $1 million — which would kick in this next July 1 coming up, and then again on July 1, 2020. That’s about $2 million in raises over a two-year period.
This is transparency?
Two other late-session episodes are worth mentioning here, transparency-wise:
- Legislators put a broad exemption from the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act into the budget bill regarding the management of a $300 million public-private partnership to help children in disadvantaged schools. That raised a transparency question: Why doesn’t the public have the right to know about the handling of $100 million in state funds that will match the private donation of Ray Dalio, billionaire founder of the hedge fund Bridgewater Associates, and his wife, Barbara? Gov. Ned Lamont announced the public-private partnership with the Dalios a couple of months ago. Another $100 million would be raised from other private donors. Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney, D-New Haven, was asked at Monday’s press conference why such an FOI exemption was put in the law. “That was, I believe, at the request of the benefactor,” he said. Asked what the benefactor didn’t want disclosed, Looney said, “I don’t know what it is he didn’t want ... disclosed. But that might be a question to ask him or the governor.” On Friday morning, in answer to that question, Lamont’s director of communications, Maribel La Luz, said in an email: “Once the Board of the new non-profit, which includes legislative leadership and educators, convenes they will determine how best to address any concerns. For now, this is no different than other non-profits which the state either partners with or supports financially.”
- Late on June 4, the second-to-last night of the regular legislative session, the state Senate unanimously approved a bill that would have imposed serious restrictions on the State Elections Enforcement Commission — which, of course, is the watchdog that sanctions legislators when they run afoul of clean election laws. Looney unveiled a bill that he said would fix “relatively minor glitches” in the law affecting the State Elections Enforcement Commission. He said it had bipartisan support from all legislative leaders in both the Senate and House, and it was approved unanimously by all the Senate’s Democrats and Republicans (with one absention) after only a minute’s debate. Good government advocates were unhappy about the Senate’s action and so was the SEEC, which issued a statement headed “Welcome Back, Corrupticut.”
“This bill was drafted behind closed doors, and passed by the Senate in dead of night, without public hearings,” the SEEC’s statement said, adding: “The worst of it: Section 5 - Immunity for fraudulent contributions. Section 8 - Online solicitation by any group (dark money, foreign, corporate, on Facebook etc.) cannot be regulated by law. Such groups can raise money for CT candidates with no reporting. Sections 10 and 11 - Gag order on complaints. Section 12 - Massively diminished oversight on spending of public funds...” It went on at length.
It’s true that the SEEC does attract attention to itself by being extremely slow in resolving a lot of its investigations of complaints alleging election law violations — big example: its still incomplete investigation of a 2014 complaint against now-former Democratic state Sen. Ted Kennedy Jr. of Branford — but there was still enough trouble about the Senate bill in the air on June 5 that House Speaker Joe Aresemowicz, D-Berlin, decided to kill it. He didn’t bring it out for a House vote on the session’s final day.
But even that resolution contained nontransparent elements. When reporters asked Aresimowicz on the morning of June 5 about what the Senate did concerning the SEEC, he said, “I don’t know what the reasons were for the bill. I read, as everybody else read, about how it was passed” and “we did not sign off on ... the contents of the bill.”
But among the bill’s contents was a convoluted provision saying that “in the case of the spouse of a communicator lobbyist, which spouse is a member of the staff of a state officer or an employee of a legislative caucus and is designated treasurer or deputy treasurer of a candidate committee, ... such spouse may in the course of his or her duties as such treasurer or a deputy treasurer bundle contributions to such candidate committee.”
Looney — who, again, brought out the bill in the Senate the night before — was asked at Monday’s press conference what that language was about and what real-life individuals it would apply to. “I don’t know the specifics of any particular individual involved,” he said. “We assumed it was for someone in the House."
That turned out to be true. House Democrats’ spokesman, Larry Perosino, confirmed Thursday that the provision was suggested in negotiations for the bill by Aresimowicz’s caucus chief of staff, Matthew Brokman, who is married to Lindsay Farrell, the executive director for the Working Families Party, who also registered as that organization’s in-house lobbyist.
How would Aresimowicz not know that one of the “contents of the bill” was suggested by, and could apply to, his own chief of staff? Perosino said when Aresimowicz spoke on the morning of June 5, “the details had not reached him at that point.” Things happen fast in such late-session negotiations, Perosino said.
He also said the provision in the now-dead bill would also have applied to other legislative and executive branch officials and their spouses besides Brokman and Farrell, and, besides, it would not have been of any use to Aresimowicz and Brokman because the speaker has declared that he won’t seek re-election in 2020.