The federal stimulus program is getting credit for mitigating 2008’s economic free fall (Things would be worse without it). Recovery as defined by Wall Street financiers and their troika of Obama administration buddies –Rahm Emmanuel, Larry Summers and Tim Geithner — is well under way.
But the employment numbers and continuing slide in local tax revenues make for a “jobless recovery” in Connecticut through 2011 or perhaps beyond. Federal stimuli, even when the state manages to get all the new money in the pipeline, won’t solve a deep-seated problem.
“Over the last twenty years, Connecticut has seen perhaps the poorest job creation among all fifty states,” stated a UCONN Center for Economic Analysis report in November. “And in the last decade, most job growth came in health care, accommodation and food services, education, and government (especially local government). A broader perspective gives little hope that Connecticut will see the restoration of growth in jobs—let alone high‐wage jobs‐‐given current policy and economic development initiatives.”
State Comptroller Nancy Wyman, speaking to the New Britain Democratic Town Committee December 21st, confirmed CT’s troubles saying Connecticut is probably in the top three or four among state governments having the most trouble balancing the books in the current economy. Emerging mitigation steps, including cuts to the social safety net and more givebacks by state employees, will not address the structural problem that is measured by Wyman’s estimate of the loss of up to 80,000 jobs in recent years.
Last November’s Metro Hartford unemployment rate of just over eight percent understates the employment problem. In cities such as New Britain that official number is more like 12 percent — not including the discouraged workers and the under-employed thousands who are in the part-time work force.
Responding to the economic gloom, State Senator Donald DeFronzo and other state Senators have rolled out a “Connecticut Jobs Now” plan that would use $1 billion in state bonding to invest in transportation infrastructure, housing, energy conservation, clean water and higher education. Picking up where the federal stimulus won’t go, state Senate Dems describe the policy as “an aggressive plan to create jobs, stimulate Connecticut’s sluggish economy and promote economic recovery.”
States DeFronzo: “Connecticut needs jobs, and needs them now; we have a responsibility to create and sustain jobs in our state. The unemployment rate in Connecticut is 8.2 percent; construction industry employment is upwards of 25 percent. Our current market conditions offer an unprecedented opportunity for the state to make wise capital investments in new facilities, clean water projects, roads and bridges, mass transit and many other projects that could be bid and under construction in a very short period of time.” DeFronzo is Senate Chairman of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee and General Bonding subcommittee.
“Connecticut Jobs Now”, promising a 12-month push to create 16,000 jobs, calls for the funding of only those projects that were previously authorized. Wyman and other state officials would most certainly oppose any new bonding given the high levels of current debt incurred by state government from the Rowland/Rell years. The Jobs Now strategy calls for allocation of those projects that could be implemented within 90 to 120 days. Several state agencies, including the state Department of Transportation and Department of Public Works have already developed project lists that meet the recommended criteria.
“The state and federal government need to spark more private investment and job creation, and we can do that by re-prioritizing our existing bond authorizations to complete shovel-ready projects,” Senator Jonathan Harris (D-West Hartford) said. “We don’t need to authorize any more bonding — we just need to invest it differently. And we need to do this immediately.”
Governor Rell, who controls the state’s bonding agenda, has not responded to the Senate Dems proposal sent to her in a December 18th letter. Whether she will buy into a strategic call to get moving on bond projects already authorized but not acted on by her bond commission is uncertain. Given the state’s lackluster job creation efforts since the early 1990s, “Jobs Now” and similar ideas should be the dominant concern among those who are trying to succeed Rell. It’s not a cliche to say “it’s the economy stupid” in 2010.