Lowering Municipal Health Insurance Premiums: New Britain Should Adopt Partnership Plan, Join State Pool

Energy in all its forms and health insurance are two of the most rapidly rising costs in most household budgets.  Municipal government is no different.  Lowering these two items in local government would be a tax stabilizer and would free up public dollars for schools, public safety and other essentials.

 In 2012 there is an option on the table to knock down the city of New Britain costs for health insurance without diminishing coverage. It will allow cities and towns to participate in the pooling of coverage offered to the state’s workforce.  State Comptroller Kevin Lembo last week announced that his office has analyzed implementation in 50 cities and towns, including New Britain, and has concluded  30% of towns would have savings of 5% or more in premiums

For cash-strapped cities such as New Britain the new Health Care Partnership law enacted last year offers the administration of Mayor Tim O’Brien an opportunity to save upwards of $900,000 or more on premiums for health insurance coverage of municipal employees.  Used in states as near as blue Massachusetts and far away as red Utah,  insurance pooling takes advantage of a larger pool of employees — spreading the risk — to maintain similar or even improved coverage on individual and family plans.

“The CT Partnership Plan is officially open for business to all non-state government employees, including Connecticut towns, cities and boards of education,” Lembo said. “The goal is to provide towns and cities with lower health care costs and long-term price stability, while also offering quality health care to employees. Our initial analysis of more than 50 municipal employers revealed significant savings of five to eight percent in some cases – real money for municipalities seeking local property tax relief.”

New Britain and other local governments will be able to join the partnership July 1, the start of the fiscal year.

"Free" Trade and Job Loss: The Beat Goes On

From other words: 

William A. Collins
My good job
Has flown away;
Lost it to N-
After years of debate and delay, Congress finally passed those free-trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama.
There go 159,000 more jobs that we’re likely to lose to Seoul after the Korean deal goes into effect on March 15, according to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI). And 55,000 to Bogotá, after the Colombian pact becomes operative too.
Our workers won’t get so many pink slips because of Panama, because that country doesn’t export much.
But big agribusiness corporations hope, NAFTA-style, to flood Panama with a deluge of subsidized, duty-free grain. The USDA expects farm exports to soar by $2.3 billion, which may sound nice to us. But this flood of food could put Panamanian farmers out of business. And U.S. banks wanted to enhance Panama’s traditional role as the Western Hemisphere’s money-laundering citadel, so they pushed for the trade deal.
(Public Citizen / Flickr)
(Public Citizen / Flickr)
Naturally, grain will flow unimpeded to Colombia and South Korea too, although Korean markets may prefer rice to our wheat or corn. But South Korea’s industrial moguls will get a special benefit. Of the manufactured goods they’ll now send duty-free to the United States, a portion can be made in North Korean sweatshops.
Still, all this new outsourcing is peanuts compared to China’s admission to the World Trade Organization in 2001. That move cost the United States about 2.8 million jobs, EPI found. American manufacturers have been thrilled ever since to buy their component parts so cheaply. But ironically, those rock-bottom prices are derived not only from China’s serf-like wages, but also from our own federal deficit.
America’s refusal to tax itself sufficiently means we have to borrow huge sums just to keep our government afloat. China loans our own money back to us, which sustains the high value of the dollar and the low value of the yuan. That helps assure that Chinese goods will remain cheaper than ours.
Our pact with Jordan is perhaps the worst of the bunch. Jordanian garments flow in here freely to Walmart, Target, Macy’s, and other major vendors, but no Jordanians ever touch them. Instead, Asian entrepreneurs open factories there and import young Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan women to do the dirty work. You can imagine the conditions. Presumably Jordanian aristocrats get a cut somewhere along the line. Anyway, all this conniving was running smoothly and quietly until the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights revealed that plant managers were raping some of the workers. It created quite a scandal in Jordan, but not here.
With cheap imports woven so tightly into U.S. manufacturing and retail, corporations have a lot at stake. Thus, their generous campaign contributions roll into the big political parties’ coffers during election years.
What about American workers? Manufacturers don’t seem to need that many anymore. Not only have millions of jobs flown overseas, but millions more have been lost to technology. Meanwhile, legislative assaults spearheaded by Republicans and corporate lobbyists have slashed the numbers of workers who belong to unions.
And the free-trade juggernaut rumbles relentlessly on under the mantra of “cheaper goods.” Cheaper they are, but with America’s stagnating median family income, tens of millions of us can’t afford goods at any price nowadays.
After years of decline, the number of U.S. manufacturing jobs has begun to inch up. But we’d see up to2.25 million new jobs created within two years if Washington were to compel China and other Asian nations to stop manipulating their currencies, according to EPI economist Robert E. Scott.
Germany has survived this plague pretty well with higher taxes, more education, selective tariffs, higher wages, long vacations, and less borrowing. Our attitude is different. Workers here are expendable. That’s why keep forging these suicidal trade deals.
OtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative, and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut. otherwords.org

Otherwords is a project of the Economic Policy Institute

New Superintendent Search Missed Key, Controversial Information on Kelt Cooper

Kelt Cooper, the choice of the Board of Education (BOE) to lead New Britain schools, rose to the top of the finalist list based on a good educational resume, accomplishments with English Language Learners  and extensive experience in diverse districts in Arizona and Texas.

The winnowing process concluded after two days of interviews by advisory committees and the BOE.  In a divided vote that stood at 5 to 5 during a tense meeting,  Cooper finally got the nod 6 to 4  and may be the schools’ chief  come  July 1 subject to contract negotiations and a critically important site visit to the Texas district of Del Rio where he is superintendent now.

On Wednesday and the day of the decision, however, the process received a disturbing jolt of information about Mr. Cooper that did not turn up during the vetting process.

I found out about it from a retired New Britain music teacher and passionate advocate for education who posted on her Facebook page a disturbing story from the Texas Observer after what must have been a cursory search on the web.  

The balanced and thoroughly researched story, written by Melissa Del Bosque,  covers Superintendent Cooper’s  controversial actions to expel students who allegedly were crossing over the Del Rio International Toll Bridge from Ciudad Acuna. The word allegedly is important here because Cooper turned out to be wrong about most of the children nabbed at the border by school employees who passed out warnings.  All but a few were  legally entitled to an education in his district. Nothing like using a sledge hammer to kill a fly to obstruct the civil rights of immigrant children.

From the Observer story:

All but 20 of the approximately 200 students issued warnings on Sept. 9 eventually returned to Del Rio schools. Texas RioGrande Legal Aid assisted at least 15 families who didn’t meet the new residency requirements imposed by Cooper. Some missed school for up to four weeks. But the crackdown, and Cooper’s blunt comments to the press about his actions, dredged up lingering racial division in Del Rio, where Mexican Americans have fought for equal education rights for more than century.
Mexican Americans in Del Rio say that whatever the legalities, Cooper’s actions had a chilling effect that could hinder their efforts to enroll more children in school. “It’s not in our interest to keep children who are U.S. citizens from getting a proper education,” says Alpha Hernandez, another attorney with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid. “Every year some children don’t get registered. I’ve seen children 7- or 8- years-old that have never attended school. We are already suffering from high unemployment and low educational achievement.”
Cooper sees the issue as clear-cut. It was never a question of immigration status, he says, but of residency. “If 200 children crossing at 6:30 on a Wednesday morning is not cause enough to be suspicious, then I don’t know what is,” he says. “No, I guess they all have sick aunts because that’s what a lot of them said.

Cooper, who received lots of national media attention from his moves and kudos from anti-immigrant forces, maintains he was just trying to enforce state law about residency requirements in organizing a border patrol that randomly stopped children and their families coming over  the border.   But the vigilante-like actions resulted in threatening notices to students who, when the facts were known,  had the legal status to be enrolled in the school district.

The New Britain Board of Education put their faith and money in the  IA-based firm of Ray & Associates.  But when crunch time came the firm’s consultant had concluded the information about Cooper’s controversial and excessive “enforcement” actions were irrelevant to New Britain’s search.

However this search for a superintendent ends, it is clear Board of Education members were denied an important piece of information that should have been known during the screening process, not on decision day.