Years ago, there was a sign on the ceiling of a college wrestling room that read: "If you can read this, you are in trouble. Move!"
The sign on Connecticut's ceiling is a report from the Bureau of Economic Analysis showing that the state was dead last in economic growth in 2012.
This was the only state in the nation where the combined value of goods and services produced shrank compared with 2011.
This shouldn't happen. The state has an educated workforce and enjoys a high quality of life. But on the negative side, Connecticut is widely considered an expensive place in which to do business.
It's time to move.
Connecticut is costly for a number of reasons, including the still-high price of energy. That is being addressed, to some degree. Let's consider two more cost drivers, one the General Assembly began to address this year, and one it didn't.
The latter is the state's anachronistic political organization, which consists of 169 towns, a mishmash of uncoordinated regional entities and a state government. It is rife with redundancies.
Taking one obvious example, the state has 106 primary emergency-call centers, known as "public safety answering points," a waste of millions of dollars a year. A recent study found that reducing the number to just eight call centers, one for each county, could lower the overall cost by 60 percent.
But towns find it difficult, except in fairly minor areas, to share services.
The legislature began to address government efficiency in its session (which ended Wednesday) via the MORE Commission, for Municipal Opportunities & Regional Entities.
The commission, an initiative of House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, looked at a number of issues around government organization and produced useful legislation. Those included a common school calendar to help coordinate regional bus contracts, and a provision allowing towns to connect to the state's fiber-optic Nutmeg Network, which could allow the regionalization of town back-office functions.
The measure with the most long-term potential directs the secretary of the state, the Office of Policy and Management and other interested parties to create "logical planning regions" that hopefully will lead to "coordinated planning and the regional delivery of state and local services."
The state is terrible at long-term planning, so it's hard to know where this will go. What would make sense is a hybrid system in which town government continues, but a lot of their services are pushed to a regional entity — a council of governments headed by town leaders.
The legislature is on the right path, and it's essential that Mr. Sharkey's group continues to march.
But there's another high-cost area that is drawing little diagnostic attention. That is the high cost of the state's large cities.
Except for Stamford, Connecticut's cities are challenged with poverty, crime and unemployment. Hartford, a virtual ward of the state, has Connecticut's highest rate of unemployment — 14.8 percent — and gets the highest amount of aid to cities and towns — $257 million.
That doesn't begin to cover it. Hundreds of millions if not billions in the state budget — in social services, corrections, courts, pardons and parole, job training, etc. — can be traced to urban poverty.
Investments in education and transportation will help in the long term. But the state needs creative thinking in economic development, well beyond keno.
If there was an employment task force, perhaps there would be no need for a shooting task force. More jobs would bring down the cost of the cities, make them more productive and in turn make the state more competitive.
If we don't move, we get pinned.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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