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Connolly, Walsh question arbitrator’s police ruling

Mayoral rivals John Connolly and Martin Walsh urged the city and police to reopen salary negotiations but differed on how to get the parties to the table.

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Mayoral rivals John Connolly and Martin Walsh urged the city and police to reopen salary negotiations but differed on how to get the parties to the table.

Councilor at Large John R. Connolly vowed Tuesday to vote against an arbitration ruling for patrol officers, saying that the proposed pay hike would undermine Boston’s financial future.

As the police contract dominated attention in the race for mayor, both Connolly and his rival, state Representative Martin J. Walsh, urged the city and police to reopen negotiations. But the candidates differed on how to get the parties back to the bargaining table.

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Speaking to reporters on City Hall Plaza, Connolly said the arbitration system is fundamentally broken. Police and fire unions will never settle contracts, Connolly said, if they continue to win large awards in arbitration.

The award calls for 13.5 percent in raises and, according to Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s administration, includes other perks that bring the total pay hike to 25.4 percent.

“The City Council cannot responsibly vote to approve this contract,” Connolly said. “It would damage the city’s long-term fiscal health, and it would set a dangerous precedent for all future labor negotiations in the city.”

Walsh reiterated his stance that the arbitrator’s ruling was “out of line” and “not in the best interest of the taxpayers.” But he has stopped short of asking the City Council to vote against it.

Instead, Walsh encouraged the city and patrol officers “to honor the basic tenets of collective bargaining and avoid the City Council vote by jointly agreeing to resume negotiations.”

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“I am going to continue to call for the sides to do that as quickly as possible, so that the City Council does not have to intervene,” Walsh said.

In interviews on the campaign trail, Walsh said he was not sure whether the city and the officers would heed the calls to return to the bargaining table.

“I haven’t heard a response from anybody,” Walsh said while standing outside a bingo hall in East Boston.

Walsh has a bill pending at the State House that would make arbitration rulings binding for police and fire unions, eliminating the requirement for a City Council vote. Massachusetts has not had binding arbitration since the early 1980s.

Connolly said Walsh’s bill “would be devastating to the city’s financial health.”

“It would mean the council does not have the last line of review on these contracts,” Connolly said. “That means, had that bill been a law, when the fire contract came in and now the police contract comes in, there would be no deliberation by the City Council. Instead we would get handed a bill for over $200 million.”

In 2010 an arbitrator issued a ruling that would have given Boston firefighters a 19.2 percent pay hike over four years in a contract that included a raise in exchange for agreeing to drug and alcohol testing. The City Council threatened to vote against the contract and won concessions from the firefighters. Ultimately, they agreed to a deal that the city said would save $45 million over 20 years.

On Tuesday, Connolly said that police deserve a significant raise, but must balance fiscal responsibility and fairness.

“I won’t vote for the contract as is,” Connolly said.

Menino has urged the City Council to vote against the award to set a precedent. No date has been set for the vote.

The award calls for 13.5 percent in raises and includes additional money for longevity benefits, bonuses for officers with college degrees, and other perks that bring the total increase to 25.4 percent, according to the Menino administration.

The package would cost taxpayers $80 million over six years, according to the administration. The Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association did not return a phone message left for its president, Thomas J. Nee.

By Tuesday, no other city councilors appeared to have taken a firm position on the contract.

Councilor Matt O’Malley said he compared the $80 million cost of the contract to the $102 million cost of the firefighters’ deal in 2010.

He said that under the award, many patrol officers, specifically those new to the force, would only receive a 16 to 18 percent raise.

“I’m leaning toward a yes vote,” O’Malley said.

Several councilors reached Tuesday said they were undecided and indicated it could be some time before they reach their decision. That included Councilors Rob Consalvo, Michael P. Ross, Felix G. Arroyo, Tito Jackson, Ayanna Pressley, Bill Linehan, Mark Ciommo, and Stephen J. Murphy.

“I don’t want us collectively to be whipsawed by the mayor, by the cops, or by the media into making a decision,” said Murphy, the City Council president. “I think we should have a forum and allow the merits of the thing to stand on their own.”

Other councilors — Frank Baker and Charles C. Yancey — did not return phone calls.

Linehan suggested that the law be changed to give the City Council more input earlier in the process.

“The council should have to approve before the City of Boston enters into arbitration with unionized employees,” Linehan said.

Maria Cramer and Meghan E. Irons of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Andrew Ryan can be reached at andrew.ryan@globe.com.

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