As of last week, I’m a member of one of the Connecticut’s greatest ironies: the largest municipal legislature in the nation in a town populated by people with deep distrust of anything run by government — the Greenwich Representative Town Meeting.
I’m proud to follow in my late father’s footsteps — he served several terms on the Stamford Board of Representatives.
What struck me the most about my first RTM meeting was just how deep distrust of Hartford runs through the representatives of our municipality. I can’t say I blame them. This town pays the most taxes to Hartford (admittedly a function of the high density of wealthy folks — 10 of Connecticut’s 16 Forbes Billionaire List members live in G-town), and there are many reasons to distrust Hartford, not least because we’ve got such a reputation for “persistent,” “high profile” government corruption that earlier this year the Feds set up a multi-agency federal task force to combat it.
Because I was a newbie coming to the RTM late in the budget process, I observed, listened and took notes. The biggest point of contention Monday night was a vote on a three-year collective bargaining agreement between the town and the Greenwich Association of School Administrators (GOSA), a key provision of which was that GOSA employees be transferred to the Connecticut Partnership Plan 2.0, established under Public Act 15-93.
The cost of health insurance is a major issue for individuals, businesses, and municipalities. As someone who makes the bulk of my income as a self-employed freelancer, it’s something I know all too well.
Prior to the passage of the Affordable Care Act, I listened to my state senator, L. Scott Frantz, trash talk the legislation at a Greenwich delegation breakfast, extolling the free market in health care (which has failed my family in ways I have both written of and testified about in Hartford over the course of the last decade).
At this breakfast, Sen. Frantz complained about the generous health care coverage available to state legislators such as himself. It’s coverage I would love to have — but as an adjunct in the state university system, I don’t teach enough credits to qualify, and even if I did one semester, given the precarious nature of higher education funding at present, uncertainty about being able to maintain enough credits in following semesters would probably prevent me from switching.
But the Town of Greenwich is more fortunate. By switching GOSA employees to the Connecticut Partnership Plan, the town is saving significant premium costs over the term of the contract, and is further protected from unanticipated premium increases by contractually negotiated caps requiring administrators to pay any additional costs themselves.
Yet such is the distrust of Hartford in these parts that you would think we were signing a death warrant rather than a three-year employment contract. The arguments against the contract included a lengthy history of deflation and concerns about giving any raises at all given the lack of productivity. As someone coming to the RTM who has been writing about state and national politics, I couldn’t help thinking that many of the questions missed the forest for the trees.
Perhaps we should be asking why we’re having to hire additional administrators when the school population remains flat to implement the SEED evaluations mandated by the state Department of Education. Why aren’t people asking if spending more on administrators to implement these evaluations, thereby taking money away from classrooms and educational programs, really benefits educational outcomes? Why aren’t they asking why the state is implementing a policy for teacher evaluations based on models the American Statistical Association deems to be unreliable?
It’s much easier to fall back on the usual arguments of government being full of crony corruption and inefficiencies. Admittedly, there are plenty of examples of that here in “Corrupticut,” and neither party has a monopoly. Each party revels in pointing out the other’s malfeasance while turning a blind eye to transgressions of their own.
Yet having worked on on Wall Street in the late 1980s, I will laugh in the face of anyone who says that the so-called “free” market doesn’t have crony corruption or inefficiencies. An Ivy League business school now lauds the same insider trader who brought down a venerable financial institution, putting thousands out of work. All it took to completely whitewash his illegal activities was a big donation.
How is that any different from politics? Michael Lewis’ 2014 book Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt revealed that the “free” market isn’t quite as free as the big players would like us to believe — in fact it’s rigged.
It’s time to stop cutting off our noses to spite our faces because of partisanship and ideology. Government certainly isn’t perfect, but neither is the free market. At a time when our state is in a continual state of structural deficit, we need to work together to make the best of both.
Sarah Darer Littman is an award-winning columnist and novelist of books for teens. A former securities analyst, she’s now an adjunct in the MFA program at WCSU, and enjoys helping young people discover the power of finding their voice as an instructor at the Writopia Lab.
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