Insurance CEOs Donate $50M For A 'Healthy' Hartford

Insurance CEOs Donate $50M For A 'Healthy' Hartford

The CEOs of three major insurance companies said Thursday they will donate $50 million over five years to Hartford, giving the beleaguered capital city a financial and psychological boost.

By Mark T. Bertolini of Aetna Inc., Christopher J. Swift of The Hartford and Alan D. Schnitzer of Travelers Cos. Inc. said in an opinion column in The Hartford Courant they are "committed to making the city healthy again and are vested in its success."

The gift is conditioned on "being part of a comprehensive and sustainable solution for Hartford," the executives said.

To Mayor Luke Bronin, that stipulation backs his view that a solution to ease the city's fiscal problems will be found in partnerships between the city, state, neighboring towns, nonprofit groups or other companies.

"This is going to take a broader effort working in partnership with stakeholders in our city, around our city and at the state level to ensure that we are addressing the long-term structural problem that results when you have a city with more than half of its property nontaxable and a smaller tax base than some suburbs," Bronin said.

The insurers will donate a combined $10 million to the city each year for the next five years, with a focus on institutions such as the Hartford Public Library, law enforcement and recreation centers.

Bronin said the city and the insurers have yet to establish details on how the money will be disbursed.

House Majority Leader Matt Ritter of Hartford said the commitment to the city is "pretty tremendous."

"As we think about Hartford's budget problems, this does help, but we also want to caution that with this great gift from these insurance companies did come a warning that this is not meant for us to find ourselves back in further trouble 10 years from now,'' he said.

"So there's a real sense of urgency for stabilizing the city's finances and making tough decisions now," Ritter said.

Sen. Len Fasano, the Senate's Republican leader, said the donation shows "that people believe in our cities."

"This city is not dead. We can revive it, but we all have to be willing to pitch in. We need the local legislators to pitch in," Fasano said, adding that the city should focus more on its "core priorities" and less on its sports stadiums – Dunkin' Donuts Park and the XL Center.

In an interview, Swift said the executives have had an "ongoing dialog" with Bronin and his predecessors "to try to be helpful."

The executives made their philanthropy public to try to draw in other gifts to Hartford similar to responses to matching grants, he said.

"We're trying to give the mayor an incentive to go beyond the three of us and seek support from others in the private sector," Swift said.

Bertolini and Schnitzer were not made available for comment.

 

Executives and city policies back to top

Swift said the executives will not pass judgment on specific city policies. The financial aid is targeted at essential services that Aetna, The Hartford and Travelers are confident can be handled by Bronin, he said.

"This particular effort we wanted to jump start his efforts to fix the budget," Swift said.

Bertolini, Swift and Schnitzer cited prized assets such as the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, theaters, parks and downtown Hartford where development will provide a link to the Connecticut River.

The Hartford has helped before with financial help. It donated $2 million several years ago to demolish Capitol West, a dilapidated building along westbound I-84 in Hartford. Liam McGee, then chairman and CEO, lived downtown and made razing the eyesore a priority.

For Aetna, the financial commitment to Hartford contrasts with statements last year by Bertolini that the insurer's failed attempt to buy Humana Inc. in Louisville could have led to a smaller presence in Hartford for Aetna. Hartford has been home to Aetna since 1853.

Hartford "faces enormous challenges" such as the budget crisis and will not be successful "unless long-simmering problems are addressed," the executives said.

With an inadequate tax base and loss of high-paying jobs, Hartford's finances are dire. The city faces a $17.3 million budget shortfall, which is expected to balloon to about $45 million in the next fiscal year, more than four times the size of the annual contribution by the three insurance companies.

"This contribution alone, while incredibly generous and incredibly significant, is not sufficient," Bronin said. "What needs to happen is this contribution needs to be part of a broad, comprehensive solution."

The mayor has visited neighboring towns looking for support, and is asking for help in the legislature as he presses the state to fully pay its reimbursement for tax-exempt properties and reform the payment formula.

"We commend the pledge made by these giants of the private sector and their dedication to Hartford," said Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's spokeswoman, Meg Green. "As reflected in the governor's budget proposal, the state is prepared to be a partner in the success of our capital city. At the same time, with increased municipal aid will come greater accountability. By directing support to the communities that need it the most, we are ensuring the strength of the region – and ultimately, our strength as a state."

Oz Griebel, chief executive officer of MetroHartford Alliance, said the organized philanthropic effort "sends a very strong signal to everyone to participate."

He's not aware if other companies are planning similar aid packages, "but it doesn't mean conversations aren't ongoing," he said.

"There are lots of meetings that involve the mayor and major taxpayers," Griebel said.