Hartford Workers State, CRCOG must find a way to help city employees get to the casinos
Hartford Courant Opinion
July 19, 2010
Last year the state spent $350,000 to bus 35-40 workers from Hartford to their jobs at the Eastern Connecticut casinos. That's a lot of money. But if those folks were unemployed and collecting benefits — casino jobs come with benefits — the state likely would be spending even more money. That suggests officials should find a way to keep the service, or some variation of it, on the road. Time is running out..
The casino bus looked like a goner earlier this year, as legislators looked for ways to cut the budget. Workers, who pay $60 a month for the subsidized service, called and complained, as Courant columnist Helen Ubinas recently reported. The bus was saved, but at a reduced budget — $150,000 for six months — until the end of the year. The state Department of Social Services, which pays for it, directed the Capitol Region Council of Governments, which runs the program, to cut costs, increase awareness and ridership, and plan for the possibility that the service will stop in December.
This is a microcosm of the problem state government will face in the coming years — how to maintain useful services in a very difficult budgetary climate. As a first principle, officials should eschew accounting tricks that appear to create savings but really shift costs to other accounts. For example, if the cost of the bus is less than the cost of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Husky and food stamps for the workers involved, then don't pretend that canceling the bus will save money. And it's not as if the workers can jump to jobs in Hartford; if they could, it's fair to assume they wouldn't be spending two hours a day or more on the bus. Hartford has the highest rate of unemployment in the state, and the more city residents who can get casino jobs, the better.
But with the state facing huge deficits, CRCOG has to explore all possible ways to do this less expensively. Perhaps the contractor, Peter Pan, can lower its price (they did move to a smaller bus a couple of years ago). Van pools may be a possibility. It would be great if the casinos would shoulder some of the cost. What if the state subsidized tickets on the regular commercial bus to the casinos? Let's find a way to help these folks keep their jobs.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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