Did Mayor Lobby Too Hard For His City Pension In Legislative "Rat"?

From the New Britain Democrat e-letter 4 July 2007

An amendment to give Mayor Timothy Stewart higher pension benefits for his employment as a New Britain firefighter failed in the waning days of the 2007 state Legislature despite Stewart’s personal lobbying of city lawmakers for its passage.

The amendment filed by State Rep. Sean Williams (R-68) was contained in a bill “updating the social security retirement age to reflect federal changes and concerning a retirement annuity program for municipal employees.”

The original bill was enacted as Public Act 07-211 without the provision that would have directly benefited Mayor Stewart The amendment in question is commonly referred to as a “rat” by legislators and lobbyists because the intent is usually to benefit one particular person or a small number of people without benefit of legislative hearings or fiscal oversight. Such obscure measures are often embedded in legislation with a broader purpose as was the case with the bill that became Public Act 07-211.

The late-filed pension language, which initially passed the House but ultimately failed in the Senate, stated that “any member of the municipal employees’ retirement system or any other municipal pension system elected to serve as an official of the state or any political subdivision of the state during the 1988 calendar year or thereafter may elect, during the time he so serves, but no longer than ten years, to continue his membership in said system.” The wording was specifically written to enable Stewart to claim fuller pension rights from the Fire Department for his 18 years of service. The Mayor does qualify for a pension, but could attain a much more lucrative deal if given more time in the system. He is currently on leave from his Fire Department position and serving his second term as Mayor. A more favorable and fast-tracked pension deal has been a goal of Stewart for several years, dating back to the time he worked in the Fire Department.

The pension flap emerged last week after Democratic Town Chair John McNamara contended Stewart should have pushed harder for municipal aid and higher levels of Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) from the Governor. McNamara asserted that if Stewart found time to make a strong push for his pension, he should have pushed just as vigorously for a more equitable local aid package with the Governor.

In a June 29th news story Stewart denied he sought any consideration for a bigger pension through the late-filed bill and called Democrats “liars” for saying he did.

New Britain legislators Senator Don DeFronzo, Rep. Tim O’Brien, Rep. John Geragosian and Rep. Peter Tercyak, issued a statement on July 3nd , however, saying Stewart “did use political influence in an effort to increase his own city pension benefits. Stewart clearly stated, to Rep. Tim O’Brien, that he had asked Rep. Williams, a close ally and friend, to introduce the legislation on his behalf. Mayor Stewart’s comments to O’Brien were made during a trip by Mayor Stewart to the State Capitol, on June 5, 2007, the day that the legislation to provide him with the special pension benefit was considered in the State Senate.”

Prior to final action on the pension amendment in the House, the legislators’ statement said that “Mayor Stewart stated, to both Rep. O’Brien and Sen. Donald DeFronzo, that he, Mayor Stewart, would cause working conditions for New Britain city fire fighters to be made worse as a result of the legislature rejecting the special pension legislation that benefited Stewart personally.”

McNamara reiterated his statement that the Mayor should have pushed harder for local aid to reduce the property tax burden and more support for schools with the Governor and other members of his party at the end of the legislative session. “I don’t begrudge him a fair pension and I would even support his service in office as counting for something. But he should pursue that matter openly and cooperatively and in accordance with the rules, not through back-door legislation and intimidation.”

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