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March 2, 2017

Top CEOs offer $50M to help bail out Hartford

PHOTO | Contributed Christopher J. Swift, chairman and CEO of The Hartford.

Three of the largest employers in the city of Hartford -- Aetna, The Hartford and Travelers -- have offered the Capital City a combined $10 million annually for five years in exchange for being a part of a comprehensive and sustainable fiscal solution for Hartford.

In a short opinion piece in the Hartford Courant, Mark T. Bertolini, chairman and CEO of Aetna, Christopher J. Swift, chairman and CEO of The Hartford, and Alan D. Schnitzer, CEO of The Travelers Cos., said they were willing to pony up the funds in addition to their regular property tax burden and philanthropic giving.

The corporate leaders say their firms are vested in the city's success and want to do something to help Hartford avoid bankruptcy. 

"This is creative but also necessary, because the city is in crisis and bold action is necessary," Swift told the Hartford Business Journal Thursday.

Something this collaborative appears to be unique, although in 2011, The Hartford made a like-minded gesture, pledging $2 million toward demolition of the Capitol West office tower by eminent domain as part of its aim to revitalize the Asylum Hill neighborhood that surrounds its headquarters campus, Swift said.

Asked how progress will be measured, Swift said, "Success is first measured not in weeks or months but in quarters and years, whether it is job creation or others getting involved. You're looking for a multiplier effect. Everyone needs to realize there needs to be contributions in some way toward the Capital City's turnaround."

Mayor Luke Bronin has not ruled out bankruptcy but he is working actively to avoid it. The city faces a $22.6 million deficit this fiscal year, and an even larger $50 million deficit the following year.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has said his new budget will provide some assistance to help safeguard the city of Hartford from insolvency. Under Malloy’s two-year budget plan, the city would receive an additional $40 million in state funding.

To address Hartford’s looming crisis and "long-simmering" fiscal distress, the three company leaders have offered to focus the financial assistance they'd provide on "important community institutions like the Hartford Public Library, city law enforcement and recreation centers," their op-ed article says.

"The announcement today was the product of many months of partnerships and discussions about how we can work together to strengthen the city of Hartford and by doing that strengthen the companies that call the city home," Bronin said.

"I'm obviously deeply grateful to these three large Hartford employers for stepping up," the mayor continued. "It is a powerful signal that the strength of Hartford is important to them and they want to see a comprehensive sustainable solution that puts Hartford on a solid foundation for years to come. Beyond the generous financial commitment, what's so powerful about this is that it is a clear statement that these companies care about Hartford's strength and success and that they see it as something that matters to their companies."

Bertolini and Schnitzer could not be immediately reached for comment.

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