Sen. Kane Op-Ed: ‘For-profit’ is state’s new 4-letter word (Waterbury Republican-American)

February 13, 2015

There’s a new four-letter word in Connecticut.

That word is “for-profit.”

What other conclusion can be drawn after talks between the Malloy administration and the for-profit Texas hospital chain Tenet Healthcare Corp. collapsed this month?

When you have someone knocking on Connecticut’s door to invest in the state, common sense dictates that you welcome him.

But here in the “Open for Business State,” just the opposite takes place.

Taxpayer dollars get showered on businesses to bribe them to move from one Connecticut town to another. Yet in Tenet’s case, roadblocks were thrown in the path at every turn.

In July 2013, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy vetoed a bill that had been approved by a 35-1 vote in the Senate and a 143-4 vote in the House. The legislation would have given Vanguard Health Systems of Tennessee — a major national for-profit company — the ability to operate in Connecticut. The bill aimed to bolster Waterbury Hospital, a major employer that has been struggling financially. The measure was strongly supported by Waterbury Mayor Neil M. O’Leary. When the legislature passed the bill, it had the support of the Malloy administration. Soon afterward, the administration reversed itself, saying it had too many questions about the bill.

In December 2014, state regulators placed conditions on Tenet’s attempt to buy Waterbury Hospital. Not five or 15, but 47 hurdles were placed in Tenet’s way. For example, one absurd requirement was that Tenet maintain all current services at current levels. That condition would have required Tenet to maintain services even if they were not in demand, while preventing it from investing in other areas. My reaction was that the regulatory environment in this state is out of control. How could state government inject itself so deeply into the free market?

Fast forward to Feb. 4. A compromise could not be reached between the Malloy administration and Tenet. The deal died, and the future of Greater Waterbury’s economy was left in limbo. “It just doesn’t work,” Gov. Malloy said to reporters as $500 million in private investment walked away from Connecticut. When criticized for the failure, gubernatorial Chief of Staff Mark Ojakian pointed the finger at Senate Minority Leader Leonard A. Fasano, R-North Haven, for not offering “one serious idea on the hospital issues in Waterbury.” Working with Senate President Pro Tempore Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, Sen. Fasano helped resuscitate the deal in January by getting Tenet back into talks to discuss the 47 conditions and save Waterbury health-care jobs.

Gov. Malloy frequently boasts of courting top business leaders when dispensing corporate welfare via the First Five program. That’s why his unwillingness to show leadership by picking up the phone and calling Tenet CEO Trevor Fetter is particularly revealing.

It’s not surprising Gov. Malloy blames others for this failure, but the Tenet debacle will be a legacy issue for him. That legacy will be a deterioration of health-care delivery and quality in Greater Waterbury. It will be a legacy of lost jobs. That legacy also will be the negative effects these actions will have on future potential Connecticut investors and job creators.

What must the business world think when it sees our state throw curve balls at the private sector until a strikeout is achieved?

There’s a new four-letter word in Connecticut, and now, the rest of the country knows it too.

– Sen. Rob Kane, R-Watertown, represents the 32nd Senate District and is a ranking member of the legislature’s Appropriations Committee.