Don Pesci: Mother Aetna's unhappy children


In Mario Puzo’s novel The Godfather, Michael Corleone, plotting to kill a crooked cop, says to his brother Sonny, “It's not personal, Sonny. It's strictly business.”

Ya’ gotta do what ya’gotta do.

If Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini does move Mother Aetna’s home office from Hartford, Conn., to Louisville, Kentucky’s largest city, he can also plead it’s only business. General Electric (GE) recently announced it was moving from Fairfield, Conn., to Boston – just business, nothing personal… please try to understand.

"We've done the analysis," Mr. Bertolini said five years ago, "and, quite frankly, Connecticut falls very, very low on the list as an environment to locate employees …in large part because of the tax structure, the cost of living, which is now approaching, all in, the cost of locating an employee in New York City.”

Such “hits,” to borrow the Mafia term, are not generally shouted from the rooftops. The possibility of dramatic uprootings are conveyed by subtle body language, a frown here, a warning word there, and threats so understated it would take a raw-nerved politician weeks to decode them.

GE CEO Jeff Immelt turned all this on its head. He was shouting from the rooftops just before he shook the dust of Connecticut from his feet and headed to Massachusetts, formerly “Taxachusetts.” Mr. Immelt’s message to Gov.  Dannel Malloy and Connecticut’s Democratic-dominated General Assembly was an iron-fisted, unambiguous BANG: Get control of spending, particularly pension obligations; stop taxing the engines of prosperity; and repeal your new Unitary Tax, which will drive large multi-state businesses from Connecticut. When political decision-makers in Connecticut showed themselves hostile to such pleadings, GE decided to leave town – nothing personal.

After GE’s “hit,” Mr. Malloy sniffed, “You win some, you lose some.” Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey and President Pro Tem of the Senate Martin Looney, having taunted Mr. Immelt as a tax-scofflaw, were not convinced the company had pulled up stakes in Connecticut for reasons given by Mr. Immelt.

It was left to Red Jahncke, president and CEO of The Townsend Group, to point out what ought to have been obvious all along: that the reasons GE decided to leave Connecticut, lucidly stated by Mr. Immelt in his many public rooftop proclamations, and the reasons that GE chose Boston  {for its strengths as a high-technology and education center} as its future nesting place were, necessarily, not the same.

How many CEOs of companies in Connecticut and elsewhere were watching Connecticut’s instructive-destructive melodrama from the wings? Was Mr. Bertolini, perhaps, among them? We are back to subtlety. Does the the Kentucky-Bertolini romance portend yet another Immelt-like rupture in Connecticut?

Maybe, thought Senate leader Len Fasano, a Republican Savonarola indelicately bringing up the matter of papal immorality: “Aetna, I believe, is under the same impression that Connecticut is not going to fix its problems. They clearly said, 'We are clearly committed to Louisville, Kentucky.' Then when politics came into play, they said, 'Well, for now, we're in Hartford.' Clearly, they're leaving the state. I would suggest they've already done some clearing out of the state already. This just speaks to a Democratic majority who wants to put blinders on, who doesn't want to see the facts because it doesn't fit their narrative, and want to continue with the status quo. We are in deep trouble in this state. ... We've gotta fix this.”

The possibility  of further business flight was dangling like a Damoclean sword over the head of Governor Malloy as he mounted the rostrum to deliver his second State of the State address before Connecticut’s General Assembly. The ladies and gents in the audience were all ears, and when Mr. Malloy proposed that the short session should be devoted strictly to budgetary matters – eschewing the pet projects that legislators often tuck into end-of-session implementer bills to enhance their re-election possibilities – he received the most raucous applause of the afternoon.

It was a fine and timely suggestion. Serious reforms that return any of the three branches of government to their pristine purposes as define in constitutions and statutes will hasten the state’s renewal and give tax-whipped Connecticut citizens fresh reason to believe that politicians generally stand for something more solid and lasting than their re-election campaigns.

Don Pesci ( is a writer who lives in Vernon, Conn.