When State Comptroller Kevin Lembo talked with city officials last winter he came bearing potential good news that the city could gain hundreds of thousands of dollars for its municipal and schools' budgets without a new tax or cut to services.
It may sound too good to be true but it is real and obtainable as the city grapples with the threat of cuts and layoffs and the need to adequately fund public education. There is a way for cash-strapped New Britain government to realize significant dollars it doesn't have now.
The new money -- potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars -- wouldn't be part of state aid allocations but would come from savings of the CT Partnership Plan, a new state law that allows cities and boards of education to join the state health plan effective July 1, 2012. In effect in more than 20 states throughout the country, the partnership plan, adopted after a three-year legislative effort by House Speaker Chris Donovan, utilizes the power of pooling employee groups to lower insurance premium costs, which have been a rising cost item for City Halls and Boards of Education in recent years.
In rolling out the CT Health Partnership in March, Lembo said his analysis found that 50 municipalities, including New Britain, would receive lower premium rates under the partnership for health insurance. "Over 50 municipal employers analyzed so far would receive lower premium rates under the CT Partnership Plan -- 30 percent of those with rate reductions greater than five percent," declared Lembo who prior to being elected Comptroller in 2010 was the State Health Advocate.
Opponents of the partnership, including former Mayor Stewart and former Ald. Lou Salvio, have complained that adoption of the health partnership would be a state takeover -- a false and ridiculous claim that distorts the issue and continues a status quo of rising health premiums. The partnership takes over nothing, but restructures good health coverage in a way the reduces the costs.
"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," stated Lembo.
The O'Brien Administration and the city's labor unions are apparently on board with the idea and ready to implement it. To date the the Board of Education has yet to commit to the idea.
To achieve the savings in the partnership plan both school and municipal labor force need to be part of it. The Board of Education needs to give the idea fair and serious consideration.