By CHRIS POWELL
All the bluster about restoring economic growth in Connecticut won’t accomplish a fraction of what the Malloy administration accomplished the other day. The Public Utilities Regulatory Authority approved the administration’s plan to extend natural gas pipelines throughout the state so that as many as 280,000 homes and businesses might gain access to the cheaper and cleaner fuel over the next 10 years.
The cost of building the pipelines will be recovered by natural-gas companies mostly through surcharges on new business and residential customers. They’re not likely to complain, since gaining access to gas and converting from oil or electric power should save them far more money starting almost immediately.
Of course heating oil dealers are furious about state government’s facilitating gas, a competitor. But Connecticut is more reliant on home-heating oil than any state, much of that oil comes from abroad and thus is a drain on the national and state economies and a risk to national security, domestically produced gas is increasingly available, and the public interest in competitive energy sources is overwhelming.
Besides, state government facilitated the heating oil industry and the electricity industry when it built the roads used by oil trucks and utility poles. Insofar as the roads preceded the gas mains, the heating oil industry got its state subsidy first.
The less money it spends on foreign oil, the more prosperous Connecticut will become -- especially since businesses here complain that their biggest burden is not supposedly high taxes or excessive regulation but the cost of energy.
Indeed, Connecticut might be far better off if the state government did nothing for economic development except to build gas mains. Construction jobs would be created right away and financed from energy savings, those savings would keep many millions of dollars in the state, and businesses and households would be more prosperous.
By contrast, it’s hard to see how Connecticut will benefit from the Malloy administration’s distributing hundreds of millions of dollars in cash and discounted loans to companies for doing no more than promising to stay in Connecticut a while longer.
Even as the administration finalized its natural gas plan the other day, Governor Malloy was awarding $15 million to Pitney Bowes for staying in Stamford and planning to increase its employment by 200 over five years, or $75,000 per job, employment the company surely was planning anyway. Of course every company in Connecticut isn’t getting $75,000 from state government for every new hire, so this policy is grossly unfair and turns economic development into mere political patronage. It’s being called corporate welfare.
The administration seems cynically sensitive to such complaints, since, as the Connecticut Mirror recently reported, even as administration agents working for the Democratic Party are extorting political donations from state government contractors and employees of state-regulated companies all over the place, no donations of any size have been recorded from companies receiving those economic development grants.
While state law forbids state contractors from donating directly to the campaigns of candidates for state office, contractors can donate to a political party’s general committee and the committee can use the money to advance its candidates. This money laundering is what Connecticut Democrats call campaign finance reform. It is public campaign financing for just one party, the party in power. The Mirror found that Connecticut’s Democratic Party is leading the Republican Party in such fundraising by 10 to 1.
Are the Democrats targeting state government contractors and companies that are particularly vulnerable to regulation? A spokesman for the party replies, "We don’t discuss our fundraising strategy" -- which is what Connecticut Democrats may call transparency.
Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Conn.