As regular readers of this column know, few things ignite this Nutmegger’s sense of moral outrage more than arrogant package store lobbyists and overpaid UConn employees. Lo and behold, last week I was treated to a double dose of indignation.
Hartford Courant columnist Kevin Rennie this week unearthed a recent letter from Connecticut Package Store Association President Stephen Downes and Executive Director Carroll Hughes to Gov. Ned Lamont complaining about a change the governor had made to laws forbidding restaurants from selling alcohol to-go.
According to the missive, the CPSA had “learned that some restaurants are not just selling wine or beer with takeout or delivered food” but are actually displaying “dozens of full 750 ml liquor bottles, posted with prices for sale at the premises or for delivery. Others are selling single drinks to-go in a cup with an inserted straw and ice.” Still others are delivering the goods “well beyond the hours they are required to be closed.”
To paraphrase Herb Morrison of Hindenburg fame, “Oh, the inhumanity!” Rennie likened the CPSA to Gladys Kravitz, the nosy neighbor of the Stevens family on sitcom “Bewitched.” Mrs. Kravitz made me laugh. The CPSA, however, makes my blood pressure rise.
Here we have an industry that was declared an essential service and was allowed to remain open during the current pandemic and to actually deliver to customers’ homes. Not only have package stores continued to do business, but also their sales have surged in the last couple of months to late-December holiday levels.
Restaurants, on the other hand, have been reduced to take-out and if Lamont had not changed the rule, they couldn’t have sold alcohol, which is where all the money is in the restaurant business.
Don’t forget, folks, that package stores are a uniquely protected class of business owners in the state. With its minimum pricing and ownership rules designed to limit competition, Connecticut has the most oppressive and anti-competitive laws governing the sale and distribution of alcohol in the country. It punishes the consumer in the name of protecting an entire class of retailers — mostly mom-and-pop package store owners — from meaningful competition. Legislative attempts to move toward a free market have thus far been limited, in part because of people like Downes and Hughes.
So from its lofty perch representing a protected class whose sales have skyrocketed during the pandemic, the CSPA is in high dudgeon over restaurants temporarily selling margaritas to-go? There are no words …
In other unpleasant news, the Courant’s Jon Lender wrote extensively (in regional journalistic parlance, it’s call “Lendering”) about former UConn President Susan Herbst’s sweetheart deal, post-presidency.
We all knew that after Herbst left the presidency, the trustees gave her a one-year sabbatical at the same salary — more than $710,000 annually — as her last year as leader of the university. That alone was enough to irk me. After all, paying anyone not to work — or to work very little — is usually a bad idea.
But when her sabbatical ends in the fall, Herbst will become a tenured faculty member at UConn’s Stamford campus and, according to her contract, “shall not be required to teach more than two (2) full-time classes per academic year.”
Herbst’s exit contract stipulates that she will always make as much as the highest-paid professor in the UConn system. That distinction currently belongs to business professor Yiming Qian, whose base salary will be $319,000. After completing her first year at the Stamford campus, Herbst will have 10 years under her belt as a state employee and will be eligible for lifetime healthcare benefits upon retirement.
The optics are terrible. With the pandemic slowing business to a crawl, the state is expecting near-record revenue shortfalls that will cause projected budget deficits as high as $3.2 billion by 2022.
It’s also got to be maddening for other state employees who don’t make that kind of money. So many people complain about the pampered, lazy overpaid state employee. Truth be told, most of them are not at the Department of Motor Vehicles or the State Police. The highest paid are in the UConn system, either on the college campuses or at UConn Health. And the legacy pension costs are enormous when you’re talking about those high academic salaries.
State government has got to send a message to UConn that the gravy train must end. Remember when in 2016 Herbst proposed — and later backtracked on — a series of generous raises for her staff, even as the university was grappling with a $40 million deficit and a roughly 30% tuition hike for students?
Senate President Marty Looney, D-New Haven and a UConn ally, scolded Herbst for the “excessive raises” that “were out of line with our economic reality.”
“At a time when painful reductions are being imposed throughout state government, UConn should not see itself as an isolated and privileged exception.”
Looney spoke the truth. Unfortunately UConn’s sheltered hierarchy never got the memo.
Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, blogs at CTDevilsAdvocate.com and is managing editor of The Berkshire Edge in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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