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Everyone In State Wants Piece Of The Stimulus Pie

Rick Green

February 17, 2009

In the new United States of Shovel-Ready Pork Projects, everything from dog parks to cemeteries represents a chance to pull together and weather this economic crisis.

With close to $3 billion in federal money apparently headed to Connecticut, there are towns, cities, engineers, environmentalists, coaches, cyclists, motorists and even the dearly departed ready to reap the benefits.

After I spent a few hours looking over the wish list assembled by Gov. M. Jodi Rell's office, one thing was clear: Republican, Democrat, tax-cutter or liberal it doesn't matter when it's government handout time. Everybody has an economy-saving pet project.

The requests total more than $13.6 billion, which means most of these pie-in-the-sky dreams won't get funded after Connecticut's Recovery Working Group begins to pore over them in coming weeks.

Maybe Darien (median family income: $195,905) really does need $41 million and a new police station. Coventry's proposal for a $75,000 dog park and a $300,000 skateboard park might actually mean a few jobs.

But really. Is this is how our parents and grandparents behaved during the Great Depression?

As I dug through the shovel-ready pile of proposals, spreadsheets and pleas, I came upon a letter from Keith Robbins, the town manager of Winchester.

Robbins, a former Republican first selectman in Bozrah, wrote the governor's office to say he had "grave concerns about any federal stimulus plan" because "the only way the federal government can fund these projects is by printing money, a process that will result in rampant inflation."

You might think Robbins was ready to pass on such Keynesian rubbish. Wrong.

As long as the spigot's on, Robbins said he wants to make sure Winchester gets its share.

"We here in Winchester do have numerous projects ready to go," including a request that the federal government cough up $5 million for something called the American Mural Project.

Newsweek is right. We really are all socialists now.

In coming weeks the recovery working group will begin sorting through the sincere, the bizarre and the projects that might actually light a fire beneath our stalled economy.

Would you believe the restoration of Babb's Skating Rink in West Suffield will bring back the teetering banking system? Under Easton's Abandoned Cemeteries Restoration Proposal to the tune of $735,000 graves in danger of being "lost forever" would be rescued by the taxpayers.

I read that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is "designed not only to jump start our economy and create jobs, but to lay the foundation for a more competitive 21st Century."

Sure, but I also know what happens when you tell the kids to make a Christmas wish list.

University of Connecticut President Michael J. Hogan said he's willing to sacrifice and accept $268 million to "provide a tremendous long-term economic benefit to the state."

Best of all are the requests from tax-cutting Republicans the party that has trashed the stimulus in Washington.

State Rep. John Piscopo wrote Gov. Rell to say that he was "concerned a project in my district," a water line, "might get overlooked." Indeed.

Republicans are looking for money for job-creating engines such as a pool drain replacement project in Woodbridge, a "green village" in Wilton, repairs to a nature center in New Canaan, solar electricity in the North Stonington town hall and the clubhouse at the town golf course in Greenwich. At least there weren't any polo fields.

Oxford First Selectwoman Mary Ann Drayton-Rogers, a Democrat, wrote that "this is the time for our state to pull together to weather this unique economic challenge." Amen.

In her town, that means adding lights to the high school football field for $1.6 million.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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