Labor relations sometimes require drawing a line, according to First Selectman Tim Herbst. That line, though, has been erased at the state level, where labor groups have essentially become the fourth branch of government, he said.

Herbst, who is running for governor, slammed the labor deal that the State Senate approved Monday, calling it a triumph of Hartford insiders and Big Labor, at the expense of state taxpayers.

“This bogus bargain was masqueraded as reform, but in reality preserves and extends the status quo in Connecticut, protecting lavish perks for insiders and refusing to acknowledge the damage the state’s finances have wrought on our economy,” he said.

Worse, Herbst said, is that labor deals continue to have repercussions for years.

“These provisions and contracts take up more and more of the state budget, and we’re seeing more cuts to programs that directly impact people,” he said. “This deal ties the hands of future governors and legislatures.”

Herbst said his tenure in Trumbull has been marked by tough but respectful and honest labor relations.

“I’ve had a good working relationship with the union leaders, but we always understood there was a line that you simply did not cross,” he said. “Their job is to defend their members, mine is to defend taxpayers. We each have a job to do.”

Herbst said the relationships between legislators and labor groups in Hartford have blurred, or eliminated, the separation between legislators and labor.

“The Speaker of the House is a paid union employee, and that’s a problem” Herbst said. “We have four branches of government in the state: executive, legislative, judicial, and union. I’m not against organized labor, but there are roles and responsibilities, and checks and balances, and there are lines you don’t cross.”

In Trumbull, Herbst said he has negotiated a dozen labor deals and gotten a number of concessions, including reductions of longevity payouts, increased health contributions and eliminating pensions for new hires.

Rivalry heats up?

Herbst also downplayed news reports of escalating tension between himself and Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti, who is also running for governor. The two clashed publicly last week over Lauretti’s claims that Trumbull businesses had been finding greener pastures for employees in Shelton, to which Herbst responded by comparing the school systems of the two communities. Lauretti also acknowledged the federal investigation into his administration, which resulted in charges against some city officials but not Lauretti, calling himself “the most thoroughly vetted candidate in the state.”

Herbst had a different take.

“Mayor Lauretti has been taking shots at me since the beginning, and now he’s using two-year-old data to try and stir up some drama,” Herbst said. “But tell me this: If he’s such a good administrator, why wasn’t he minding the store when town officials were going to jail on his watch?”

Lauretti called the school comparison “nonsense,” commenting that, “When you’re desperate you say things like that. When you don’t have anything meaningful to say you start to make things up.”

Lauretti also cited Herbst’s combative political style.

“He thinks that he can attack every and anybody whenever he wants,” he said. “He’s got a track record that’s not so flattering.”

That comment drew a sharp response from Herbst.

“This guy has real chutzpah taking shots at anyone else,” Herbst said. “When you’re involved in politics for any length of time, as some of us have been, you are going to have baggage. He has two sets of luggage. None of us have ever played golf under helicopter surveillance.”