CHRIS POWELL: Leftist street theater clouds college, insurance disputes

Published on Monday, 3 May 2021 20:38

Recent leftist street theater in Connecticut raised issues that deserve more analysis than street theater can provide.

First, unionized members of the faculty of the four regional state universities brought their 14-foot inflatable skunk to Southern Connecticut State University for a rally protesting "stinky" contract proposals by the Board of Regents. Union members complained that the board wants them to work more and to control which research grants they apply for.

It's unclear why the union members think such complaints would resonate with the public. While there isn't much management in state government – nearly everyone there is unionized against management and thus organized against the public interest – the Board of Regents is supposed to manage the universities. Determining employee workloads is part of that, as is supervising research done by faculty. But the union thinks that faculty members should decide by themselves what research they undertake on the job.

To hear the faculty union members tell it as they escort their inflatable skunk from campus to campus, they are oppressed despite their generous salaries, gold-plated medical insurance, and defined-benefit pensions, which make them far more compensated than most private-sector workers.

A few days after the protest at Southern, the Working Families Party, which pushes Democratic state legislators to the left by threatening to run leftist candidates against them, held a "die-in" protest in Simsbury outside the home of the chief executive of medical insurer Cigna. The protesters were mad at him for opposing legislation to have state government sell medical insurance to small businesses. They said he and his company are killing people.

Advocates of the legislation complain about the profits of medical insurers and the huge salaries of their top executives. One of the protesters in Simsbury, the Rev. Tony Lorenzen, a minister for Unitarian congregations in Meriden and Woodbury, asked indignantly: "How is taking care of people's health and well-being something anyone should make a profit from?"

But while the profits of medical insurers may be a fair issue, the insurers don't keep most of the money they collect in policy premiums. Instead most of that money is paid to hospitals, doctors, and nurses. If that minister and the Working Families Party could persuade hospitals, doctors, and nurses to work for free, medical insurance companies would go out of business.

Indeed, as state budget director Ben Barnes famously explained at a General Assembly hearing in 2015, Connecticut heavily taxes hospitals for the same reason the career criminal Willie Sutton gave for robbing banks: "That's where the money is."

Improving access to medical insurance is a compelling objective for government. But how much can it be achieved without diminishing competition, choice, and individual freedom, running up government expense, and squeezing medical providers too hard? How much should it be done at the expense of an industry on which Connecticut long has heavily relied?

Those are complicated policy questions that are not answered by street theater, as much as that theater makes its participants feel righteous.

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FELONS SHOULD WAIT: Striving to get more members of racial minorities into court somewhere besides the criminal defendant's table, the state Judicial Department is proposing legislation that would, among other things, allow felons to serve on juries as soon as they are released from prison, eliminating the seven-year buffer period now in force, and let noncitizen permanent legal residents serve on juries.

This pursuit is noble but it lowers standards too much. People whose involvement with the punishment side of the criminal-justice system is so fresh are bound to harbor resentments that could impair their jury service, and most people released from prison get in trouble with the law again soon. Time is needed for them to prove themselves good citizens.

Yes, the limited peremptory challenges allowed to the prosecution and defense could be used to disqualify former felons, but allowing recent ones to serve would disadvantage the prosecution far more than the defense.

Letting noncitizens serve on juries would pose less risk but still would devalue citizenship, which is already being devalued by the failure to enforce immigration law.

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.

Posted in The Bristol Press, Column on Monday, 3 May 2021 20:38. Updated: Monday, 3 May 2021 20:41.