Gov. Dannel P. Malloy Friday vetoed a little-noticed bill that could have reinstate the disputed pension of controversial East Haven Mayor Joseph Maturo Jr. — who made national news in 2012 by saying he might have some tacos on the day four of his town\’s policemen were charged with terrorizing local Latinos.
Malloy said Senate Bill 704, \”An Act Concerning Reemployment and the Municipal Employees\’ Retirement System,\” could promote double-dipping by government employees.
\”Under this bill, retirees would be able to continue collecting full retirement benefits and receive compensation for full-time employment,\” Malloy wrote in his veto message Friday, returning the bill to the secretary of the state unsigned. \”I believe this bill would impose an undue burden on municipalities, and is inconsistent with the purpose of the municipal retirement system, which is intended to provide assistance to our retirees and not current employees.\”
The bill\’s possible restoration of the pension to Maturo — if the Democratic governor signed it — had been the subject of a June 16 Government Watch column in The Courant.
Maturo, a Republican, had been collecting a disability pension of more than $40,000 a year from his past service as an East Haven firefighter — but it was rescinded in November 2011 after he won the election for mayor. The state comptroller\’s office\’s Retirement Division, which administers the Connecticut Municipal Employees Retirement System (MERS), said Maturo couldn\’t collect the disability pension while being paid $75,000 a year as mayor.
He had collected that same pension during an earlier stint as mayor from 1997 to 2007. But the comptroller\’s office tightened its interpretation of retirement rules in 2011, saying that a MERS retiree can\’t work more than 90 days a year for a municipality that participates in that retirement system. Officials said it had been an error to let Maturo collect the pension his first time around as mayor.
The bill would have erased the ban on double-dipping. It said a person can continue to collect a MERS pension — even if that person gets reemployed in another municipal job — so long as the person \”does not participate in the Municipal Employees\’ Retirement System during the period of his or her reemployment.\”
That was Maturo\’s situation; the elected mayor\’s position in East Haven isn\’t part of the Municipal Employees Retirement System — even though MERS does cover regular East Haven municipal employees such as firefighters, which Maturo was until he injured his back in 1991 and was granted the disability pension. He doesn\’t build up credits toward a MERS pension as mayor.
MERS is run by the Office of the State Comptroller for dozens of cities and towns that opt not to create their own retirement and pension systems.
Maturo was largely unknown outside his hometown until January of 2012, when federal authorities indicted four local police officers, saying they abused Latinos by means including excessive force. That day, a reporter asked Maturo what he planned to do for Latinos in town, and he answered: \”I might have tacos when I go home.\”
Maturo later apologized for the remark he admitted was insensitive, but after that he drew more attention. Local opponents started calling him \”Taco Joe.\” And when he appealed the discontinuation of his disability pension, it was front-page news.
The bill passed unanimously in the Senate on April 18, and the house approved it 141-1 on June 4.
Malloy\’s veto apparently affects someone else: Marilynn Cruz-Aponte, a longtime Democratic activist in New Britain who retired in 2008 after 22 years as a city employee there, then took a municipal job in Hartford as assistant to the public works director. She had testified in favor of the bill\’s passage, saying that she\’d been told she couldn\’t collect her New Britain pension when she turned 55 in 2012 because of the new 2011 comptroller\’s interpretation of the rules. Her Hartford job is a non-union position and isn;t part of MERS, she said.
Rep. Peter Tercyak, D-New Britain, co-chairman of the legislature\’s labor committee, said that lawmakers from his city sympathized with Cruz-Aponte and anyone else who was shut out by the comptroller\’s 2011 change in interpretation from pensions others had received in the past. He said that you should be able to collect a pension from an old job if your new job doesn\’t affect it. \”Sears doesn\’t get to say ‘we\’re not going to give you your pension\’ because [after you retired there] you went to work for Macy\’s,\” he said.
That was the analogy for what Cruz-Aponte did — while, in Maturo\’s case, it\’s like he went from one department of Sears to another, Tercyak said.
It was unclear Friday whether Cruz-Aponte would have an recourse for appeal with the comptroller\’s office. She said in an interview that she saw it as \”ironic\” that the veto appears to block reinstatement of the pension for Maturo — who drew criticism for his comments about Latinos from getting his pension — while it hurts her. \”I am a Puerto Rican woman who is asking for what is due me.\”