It was a bizarre day of twists and turns at the Capitol that started out with sky-high hopes and ended in frustration.
The day started with a deal under which former Gov. John G. Rowland would have kept his $50,000-per-year pension under a compromise ethics package that was scheduled to be debated by the state Senate.
But the entire deal blew up on Wednesday night with no votes in either chamber. Votes are not expected until next week at the earliest.
Lawmakers have been calling for the revocation of pensions for politicians who are convicted in the future - rejecting a call by some legislators for a 10-year reachback period to cover Rowland and Democrats such as former Sen. Ernest Newton and former Rep. Jefferson Davis who pleaded guilty to crimes in the past. Both Rowland and Newton have not started collecting their pensions because they have not reached the age of 55.
Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams, the highest-ranking senator, said that revoking pensions retroactively was a problem "not only for the governor, but the House and Senate as well.''
"This was a stumbling block,'' Williams said. "The Constitutional argument was on the minds of a lot of folks.''
Rep. William R. Dyson, a New Haven Democrat who is the dean of the legislature, had said that some legislators were reluctant to impose sanctions retroactively on their former friends and colleagues.
Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell worked out the compromise with legislators and hailed the agreement.
"This bill represents the hard work of both chambers, and I appreciate the leadership of the lawmakers involved in forging this compromise,'' Rell said.
But Rep. Christopher Caruso, a Bridgeport Democrat who co-chairs the committee that oversees ethics, still wants to force a vote on pension retroactivity that would reach back for 10 years. He denied that he had signed on to anything agreed to by the Senate Democrats.
"It's not done,'' Caruso told Capitol Watch. "The macaroni isn't cooked. It's like throwing the hot potato to someone and if they drop it, you blame them.''
Regarding statements by the Senate Democrats that the ethics package is historic, Caruso said, "Everything's a breakthrough up in that room. It's a country club. We know that.''
Caruso pointed to two non-scientific polls in recent days, by Channel 8 and on The Hartford Courant's Web page, that showed that the public was in favor of retroactively revoking pensions.
He said, "At the very least, the people of this state are entitled to a vote on retroactivity - regardless of whether it's an election year or not. The problem is not with the public. It's with the legislature.''
When asked Wednesday night for his explanation on why the deal fell apart, one insider said, "I don't have one.''
House Speaker James Amann and Majority Leader Christopher Donovan both said that the House Democrats were conducting a head count Wednesday to see how many votes they had for the bill. Amann noted that he had never agreed to anything that was announced on Wednesday morning.
"I was as surprised as anybody when I saw the governor's press release,'' Amann said Wednesday night during a reception at the state Capitol complex for famed actor Gene Wilder of Stamford.
When asked about the earlier statements that all sides had agreed on a compromise, Amann said, "I have no idea. You'd have to ask the Senate and the governor. We agreed on concept, but ... there was never a signoff on it. A signoff is 'Let's run the bill.' They knew my chairman needed to talk to the caucus. They know that that's the process.''
Amann noted that he still needs to speak with Caruso to plot the future strategy for the bill.
"I know there was a lot of concern from a lot of legislators about family members [who would benefit from the pensions], and I do sympathize with that,'' Amann said. But the other side of the question, he said, is "Well, maybe Mayor Giordano should have thought about his family. Maybe Governor Rowland should have thought about his family. And we can talk about Ganim and others. Quite frankly, I don't think they were thinking about their families. I think they were thinking about how to gain personal wealth for themselves at the expense of the taxpayers.''
--Christopher Keating and Jon Lender