At his first press conference in May after winning the GOP nomination, Bob Stefanowski leaves after refusing to state a position on Connecticut's new safe harbor law for abortion patients and providers. Yehyun Kim /

Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski said Wednesday that the 2.5% general wage increase recently awarded to unionized state employees over the objections of GOP lawmakers was reasonable compensation.

“Two and a half is reasonable. Inflation is on the rise right now. We’ll have to see what the cost of living is,” Stefanowski said in his first news conference since winning the GOP convention endorsement on May 6.

His support for the raises may surprise listeners of talk radio, where Stefanowski has criticized the $1.9 billion projected cost of the new contract over four years, comparing it unfavorably to the $600 million in tax cuts in the new budget.

Stefanowski said he objected to $3,500 in bonuses in the contract that Gov. Ned Lamont has said are meant to retain employees at time when the state is facing an unusually large number of retirements in July.

Since the first $2,500 is payable this month, the description of them as retention bonuses was spurious, Stefanowski said. He said he saw the bonuses as Lamont trying to shore up support among employees he has ignored, such as correction officers.

“And then you know what? He gets in an election year, he realizes this race is tight, and all of a sudden he’s Santa Claus,” Stefanowski said. “You all know it — he’s buying 44,000 votes. That’s what he’s doing. I don’t begrudge state employees. They deserve to be paid.”

Stefanowski also asserted that corruption in Connecticut is a heavier burden on taxpayers than the income tax, sales tax or any other tax. He called it the “corruption tax.”

“That’s the biggest tax we have, and we have to start holding people accountable,” Stefanowski said.

He was asked if he thought corruption was actually costing Connecticut billions of dollars.

“I don’t know how big it is,” he said. “And you know why? The reason is because the governor refuses to investigate it. If he would investigate it, and get to the bottom of it and bring some real teeth in with an inspector general, or have Attorney General [William] Tong look at it, then we would know. It could be billions of dollars.”

The FBI is investigating how the state’s Office of School Construction Grants & Review operated while directed by Konstantinos Diamantis, who was fired in October by the governor from his appointed post as the deputy secretary of the Office of Policy and Management. He resigned at the same time from his school construction post.

Since then, the administration has begun audits of the school construction contracts — and audits of the previous audits of those contracts. 

Stefanowski called the FBI inquiry an “alleged bribery” investigation. Local officials have complained that Diamantis pressured them to use certain contractors, but Diamantis has denied any wrongdoing. No one has accused him of bribery or misdirecting state funds.

Stefanowski also faulted Lamont for the misuse of federal pandemic relief money in West Haven, where a city hall official who also was a state representative, Michael DiMassa, has been arrested on federal conspiracy and fraud charges.

Lamont has hinted that the Mayor Nancy Rossi should step down, allowing a “fresh start” for West Haven, whose finances are now under state control. But he has not demanded her resignation, as Stefanowski said he should.

“We’re going to clamp down on corruption,” Stefanowski said, standing outside the state Capitol. “We’re going to strengthen the code of ethics. We’re going to put the people of Connecticut ahead of the people in this building behind me.”

He offered no specific changes to the code of ethics.

Stefanowski lost to Lamont by 3 percentage points in 2018. A telephone poll released last week by Emerson College and WTNH showed Lamont leading, 51% to 38%, with 12% undecided.

The poll was conducted May 10 and 11 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 points. Data was collected over landlines, mobile phones and from an online panel.

A digital-only poll conducted by Sacred Heart University in March gave Lamont a lead of 47.6% to 29.7%, with 22.3% undecided.

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.