Published September 19. 2013 4:00AM
The Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis released a report Wednesday with a startling conclusion - the Malloy administration is not spending money fast enough.
Well, bonding money, that is. The University of Connecticut economic think tank pointed to a $6.2 billion backlog, borrowing approved for projects that remains unspent because so many projects are not moving forward.
If the administration can accelerate the projects, reducing the backlog by half over the next couple of years, it would accelerate Connecticut's economic output and add 16,000 to 28,000 badly needed new jobs, the report estimates.
The backlog is particularly irksome because the state is missing the opportunity to take full advantage of historically low interest rates.
In preparing the report, the center reviewed bonding approved during the first half of this year and found the legislature slated about 80 percent for construction, including more than half for transportation projects that would attract matching federal money. In addition to creating construction jobs and boosting businesses that support construction, these types of projects will upgrade the state's infrastructure, another key to economic growth.
Why the backlog, which has doubled since Gov. Dannel P. Malloy took office in January 2011? Department of Transportation staffing is down 8.8 percent over the past decade, with money from the state's high gasoline tax diverted elsewhere in the state budget. Many of those leaving have been senior staff. A smaller, less experienced staff has slowed project development.
State and federal red tape can also delay the process, but it is often with good reason - safeguards to prevent past abuses in which projects were steered to politically connected contractors.
The Malloy administration has to fix it. Just as the recent recession forced many businesses to figure out how to operate more efficiently and boost productivity despite staff cuts and regulatory hurdles, so too must the state. The legislature must also stop diverting the gas tax revenues for programs unrelated to transportation.
"Accelerated recovery is possible for the state," says the report, but only if Connecticut uses "that stockpile of approved-but-unissued bonding to fund strategic investments."
The state cannot afford to miss this chance and neither, politically, can the governor as he approaches the 2014 election year.