Legislative Democrats on Friday unveiled a plan to borrow $1 billion to pay for construction projects across Connecticut that they say will create more than 16,000 jobs.
The 12-month initiative calls for funding previously authorized transportation, housing, energy conservation, clean water and higher education capital improvement projects that can be started within 90 to 120 days.
The lawmakers claim additional bonding does not needs to be authorized. Rather, they said bond money should be shifted from other projects that have not yet been started or create few jobs to those that can begin quickly and employ more people.
"If you want money coming into this state, put people to work," said Rep. Antonio Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill, co-chairman of the legislature's Transportation Committee.
Connecticut's unemployment rate is currently 8.2 percent. But unemployment in the construction trades was as high as 30 percent earlier this year, according to Ben Cozzi, president of the Connecticut State Building Trades Council. He said that figure could jump to as much as 40 percent in 2010 given the lack of work.
Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell's office was unenthusiastic about the proposal, saying nearly $1.3 billion in bonding has been approved in recent months for large and small projects, including the new West Haven Rail Station and construction at Gateway and Norwalk Community Colleges.
"All of these efforts have one goal: putting people to work," according to a written statement from Rell's office.
Her office maintains that the governor will continue to use bonding as an economic development tool, but "will not do so irresponsibly and she will not do it for pork barrel projects."
Another $1 billion in unscheduled borrowing would cost taxpayers $400 million in interest payments, according to Rell's office. The state is currently about $200 million below its limit for borrowing before projects would need to be canceled.
Democratic legislators said they'd be willing to cancel some projects already approved for funding in order to make room for other projects that are ready to go, especially those in communities with high unemployment.
They also stressed that now is the perfect time to invest in state infrastructure improvements, especially with low interest rates for borrowing and the cost of some building materials dropping.
"Conditions are the most favorable that they've ever been for this type of investment," said Sen. Donald DeFronzo, D-New Britain, co-chairman of the Transportation Committee.