President-elect Barack Obama hosted the nation’s governors in Philadelphia on Tuesday and Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell was amongst those who attended. The group chatted about how the federal government can help the states make it through the ongoing economic crisis and what sort of relief might be feasible. As for the terms proposed: The governors want $136 billion for infrastructure and $40 billion for health care.
It remains to be seen if those numbers will be met, but right now, Connecticut will certainly take all the money it can get. The state Office of Policy and Management is projecting a $338 million deficit for the end of this year — not to mention the $6 billion deficit projected for two years from now.
But make no mistake: there will be competition for any federal funds. And for all of its woes, Connecticut may not stand at the front of the breadline.
So how can the government put itself in a good position to benefit from the Obama administration? By establishing a “sustainable” economy in the strictest sense of the word.
The state government should strongly encourage the creation of “green collar” jobs, helping companies that are interested in developing clean energy and technology survive and thrive on Connecticut soil. Not only is it a valuable move as a statement on climate change, but considering the direction the country is likely to move with respect to the environment and energy efficiency, it may be even more valuable as a new source of statewide income.
Jim Amann, speaker of the state House of Representatives, is committed to turning Connecticut into one of the country’s premier locations for green industry. Speaking with the News on Wednesday, he said that the need for action is even more urgent now that jobs are being lost in the state’s large financial sector.
“It’s not brain surgery,” Amann said. “It’s competition. It’s a world global market. People will go where there are opportunities.”
Amann compared the project to the state’s recent “Hollywood East” initiative. For that, the state legislature has used tax credits and other financial incentives to build the foundation for a film industry in Connecticut. And as Amann pointed out, the early success of the program has led to the residual development of industry infrastructure: More and more studios are being built and new production and technology firms are opening up in the area.
To have the same success in green industry may be more of challenge simply because a clear model does not yet exist. But by most standards, Connecticut already has a good foundation to stand on. Its fuel cell industry is highly developed, providing over 2,000 jobs, and the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund has been a strong leader in pushing new ways to invest in green business initiatives.
To her credit, Rell has been an important force in making all of this a reality. She has been a supporter of clean energy initiatives in the state and on Nov. 13 announced that she would be creating a $9 million Connecticut Clean Tech Fund that, according to a press release, “will make investments in seed- and early-stage companies focused on innovations that conserve energy and resources, protect the environment or eliminate harmful waste.”
But as they begin to scavenge the budget for expendable programs in an effort to save money, it will be easy for both Republicans and Democrats to overlook these existing programs and stand in the way of any new ones that might be necessary.
It is critical that they do not.
The Obama administration seems committed to promoting a green energy infrastructure with its goal of investing $150 billion over the next 10 years. And that money has to end up somewhere.
If Connecticut is proactive rather than reactionary — if it is able to position itself well — it will surely see a good portion of these funds.
Sam Breidbart is a sophomore in Branford College.