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Will attorney general block bank merger that would hurt state conumers?

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong should suspend his righteous poses against the Tweeter in Chief and give urgent attention to something close to home − the acquisition of United Bank by People's United Bank.

People's United, based in Bridgeport, and United, based in Hartford, overlap heavily in central Connecticut and western Massachusetts, and the advantage of their combination is brazenly to increase profit by eliminating competition, likely closing dozens of branches and dismissing hundreds of employees. People's United eliminated competition on a smaller scale last year by acquiring Farmington Bank, which long advertised its localness until the opportunity to sell out to a behemoth came along.

People's United Bank and United Bank are both profitable, so neither will go out of business without their deal. Both still could combine with banks outside the region and gain efficiencies without reducing competition in Connecticut and Massachusetts. But destroying competition is where the big money is.

The antitrust division of the attorney general's office is capable. Lately it has been a leader in a promising antitrust lawsuit with other states against price fixing by pharmaceutical companies. But Connecticut has plenty of help there. If the attorney general won't defend competition in banking in Connecticut, no one else will.

Pension monster

Adding evidence that government in Connecticut is becoming mainly a pension and benefit society for its own employees, the New Haven Register reported this week that Hamden has unfunded liabilities of more than a billion dollars, most of it obligations to present and future retirees.

As with state government itself and, according to recent reports, Bridgeport and Meriden, Hamden officials long have made fat promises to keep town employees happy but, to keep taxpayers happy, have not taxed enough to put the necessary money aside.

As was noted this week in Connecticut's Hearst newspapers by David Stemerman, a candidate for last year's Republican nomination for governor: "The average U.S. state spends about 10 percent of its budget on debt service and unfunded benefits. Connecticut spends more than 20 percent. According to JP Morgan, Connecticut would need to spend a staggering 35 percent to cover the true cost."

Government employee retirement benefits are cannibalizing government in Connecticut. Stemerman blames it on the control exercised by government employee unions over Connecticut's dominant political party, the Democratic Party. While the pension disaster at the state level is now well understood if not yet confronted, the disaster at the municipal level is not quantified comprehensively.

Governor Lamont should direct the state budget office to survey all municipalities about their unfunded pension obligations and issue a report, even if that would risk offending the unions.

Weakening families

Lamont and many state legislators are celebrating a new state law allowing sexually active minors to obtain an AIDS-inhibiting drug without parental consent. But the law is really nothing to celebrate, no more than Connecticut's law permitting minors to obtain abortions without parental consent should be celebrated. This stuff doesn't protect minors as much as it encourages them to take risks for which they are not prepared, legitimizes statutory rape, and weakens the family and parental responsibility.

It contributes to the decline of the families that has caused the country's worst social problems.

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




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