Breidbart: Rell, thank the Academy

“Revolutionary Road,” filmed on location this past summer in Stamford and Trumbull, is expected to be up for several Academy Awards next month. That should bring some well-deserved recognition to the growing film industry here in Connecticut — er, Hollywood East.

But as good as they were as the film’s leads, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet were not even the best actor and actress to hail from the Nutmeg State this year. In fact, they weren’t even close.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell and former Speaker of the House Jim Amann are far more deserving of those titles. With the state deficit closing in on $1 billion, the two political heavyweights — probable opponents in the upcoming 2010 gubernatorial contest — have used the last few weeks to make their case to the Academy. Both have been accused of clear financial indiscretion, and both have used uncanny thespian skill in order to get out of trouble.

It’s been three weeks since Rell announced that an independent audit of the New Haven Rail Maintenance Facility project had been completed. This after the project, first put forward by Rell in 2005, slowly unraveled into an embarrassing mess for her administration.

To her credit, building a new rail maintenance facility is an urgent task if the Department of Transportation wants to introduce new train-cars to its Metro-North lines. And back in 2005, without much trepidation, the state legislature provided the $300 million in bonding for which Rell had asked.

Since then, however, it has become apparent that $300 million will not do — last year, acting commissioner of the DOT H. James Boice said an immediate $250 million infusion was necessary to keep the project going and an eventual $700 million more to bring it to completion. What wasn’t immediately apparent was whether Rell knew about these heightened budget demands in 2005.

At first, her office claimed she did not. But then evidence surfaced of Rell in ’05 (on camera, no less) talking about the price increases. After spreading around blame among her staff, she announced that the project would be fully audited to see what could bring the price tag down from $1.2 billion. Nine months and $630,000 (that’s how much Hill International Inc. was paid for its report) later, the audit shows that the governor’s plan may still need more than $900 million in funding.

As Sen. Bob Duff, vice chair of the General Assembly’s Transportation Committee, wrote in a press release, “The fundamental problem — the need for about $550 million more for just the first phase of construction — is exactly the same now as it was nine months ago.”

This is the kind of oversight failure that Jim Amann should be noting and holding away for his campaign talking points — if only Amann wasn’t tied up in some recent political drama himself.

Amann left the House after his term expired this year in order to prepare for a gubernatorial run. His exploratory committee has already been raising significant sums of money, and he is widely considered a favorite in a state that went heavily Democratic this past election cycle.

Last week, Rep. Chris Donovan, who took over for Amann as speaker of the house, announced he had selected Amann to be a special adviser to his political team. Perhaps it was not a bad move, considering that the state is in a tricky situation and Amann could still provide a guiding voice. The only problem: Donovan was set to pay him $120,000 for his services. It is hard to doubt that a good portion of that money would have gone into the coffers of the Amann 2010 campaign.

That’s probably not the best use of government money at this time.

Actually, that’s probably not the best use of government money at any time.

Fortunately, Tuesday proved to be a day of change even for Connecticut Democrats. Amann announced he would decline the job offer. But it would be hard to blame Rell if she revisits this incident in a campaign ad or two.

Then again, this is Connecticut politics, full of actors (read: Sen. Joe Lieberman) and actresses. Perhaps both will pull away unscathed.

Only in Hollywood East.

Sam Breidbart is a sophomore in Branford College.

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