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State's New Economic Plan Not So Strategic

Hartford Courant

September 20, 2009

Gov. M. Jodi Rell has 60 days in which to accept or reject the long-awaited Economic Strategic Plan that reached her desk this past week. She should send it back.

For one thing, the 542-page document isn't really a plan it's somewhere between an overly long mission statement and a doorstop. An effective plan would articulate a vision and a means to get there. We would know who has to do what, in what order and by when, how it would be paid for and how progress would be measured.

What we have here are laundry lists of dozens of recommendations, many of which have been around for some time and some of which are already being carried out.

The plan comes from a 2007 law intended to limit sprawl development and encourage responsible growth. The economic plan is supposed to tie smart growth to economic development, to be a blueprint for growing the economy while protecting the environment.

The plan opens with a general vision: "Connecticut will have a vibrant, diversified and resilient economy"; then examines more than a dozen "factors of economic growth," such as housing (good discussion), transportation, taxation and land use.

Much of this involves a review of existing literature, so is familiar. Connecticut has an educated but aging workforce. We need affordable housing. Eighty percent of commuters drive to work alone. Young workers are leaving the state. Achievement gap. Got it.

This leads to a series of more than 60 recommendations. Some of them a statewide green building code; more emphasis on waterborne commerce; a streamlined brownfield remediation program; a consolidated municipal grant program based on smart-growth principles are definitely helpful.

But then there are recommendations to form more committees, such as a "Workforce and Education Cabinet," and do more studies, such as a blue-ribbon examination of the tax structure. (A tax study was done in 2005 by the Legislature's Program Review and Investigations Committee.)

One recommendation is to design and build the New Haven-to-Springfield commuter rail line, a project that's underway and in the environmental assessment stage. Another calls for a green building tax credit, a good idea but one vetoed earlier in the year by Mrs. Rell as a cost-saving measure. Others call for more investment in technology and green jobs, which is probably sound policy but not exactly bold or original.

If this report isn't better focused, with priorities, benchmarks and duties assigned, it is going to sit on a shelf and be quickly forgotten. The law that created the study calls for benchmarks and prioritizing goals and objectives. Also, the plan's recommendations would cost hundreds of millions of dollars. The money is coming from where?

Mrs. Rell should insist that the Department of Economic and Community Development take another pass at it.

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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