Assessing the View From Downriver
By DAVID B. PANAGORE
When I relocated, personally and professionally, to Connecticut, I did so with some questions — would I be expected to like the Yankees, and would I now have to think like a New Yorker, not a Bostonian? — and some assumptions.
Indeed, my childhood produced a quiet Connecticut jealousy, notions that those who govern there are one step ahead of us, better dressed, and probably better by a little in a lot of things. Since stepping over the state border four years ago, however, I have learned how false that notion is.
My time has mostly been spent in the Interstate 91 to 95 corridor, working for Hartford and now New Haven. Overall, living is easier in spite of the government, and work is harder because of the government. What have I learned? That I long for the efficiency and effectiveness of Massachusetts state government.
While that may sound like sarcasm, it’s not. It’s the truth.
If you’re a person who wants or needs to get some work or business done in the Nutmeg State, let me say first that it takes time — more time than in Massachusetts, and perhaps double the time. In order to do business in Connecticut, in order to work with any city or town, you have to realize that the process-driven nature of the town meeting still permeates the mentality and decision-making process of the state, at each level of government.
Connecticut has 169 towns, and the overarching system and legislative mentality are built around the towns, not the cities. Massachusetts empowered its cities, creating uniform building codes, universal health and pension systems, uniform codes of ethics, and consistent procurement practices, and very often recognizing the operational differences between cities and towns.
Meanwhile, Connecticut has steadfastly kept to itself, allowing 169 different systems in so many areas of operation. In Hartford, for example, the city must track more than 150 separate retirement groups; you can count Springfield’s on one hand. The same goes for pensions and building codes.
Comparing the two state governments, keep in mind that while Connecticut’s is far more accessible, the Bay State’s is frankly more efficient, more modern, and has nothing as yet to fear from its southern neighbor. For example, it regularly takes the Connecticut Department of Transportation up to two years to review roadway-design documents; that’s twice as long as I recall it taking in Massachusetts. The current governor, Dannel Malloy, is trying to move the ball forward, but structurally he does not have the horses.
In the aftermath of the Great Recession, Massachusetts does lead the pack in New England for job growth, while Connecticut remains relatively stagnant. Among the many reasons why, I believe, is the lack of a mature bureaucratic infrastructure, including, for example, the lack of agencies and systems like the MEPA process, the Mass. Office of Business Development, and MassDevelopment, each of which has, in its own way, made a telling difference in support of development.
In Connecticut, the governor has spearheaded a ‘First Five’ program of financial support in return for job creation. However, each deal has to be managed at the highest levels in order to occur. There is no real deep bench of staff and structure across the state.
Jackson Labs, a great coup for Connecticut, was a deal, again, negotiated and handled by the top-ranked state officials. This means that, when doing business, you go right to the corner offices, and although the number of helping hands is limited and the money more flexible with fewer restrictions, it is important to remember that, in Connecticut, there is no ban against a direct infusion of capital on public investment in private enterprise.
Simply put, working in and with the public sector in Connecticut is far more challenging than in Massachusetts — yet another way the quality of life in the Pioneer Valley benefits residents and businesses alike.
David B. Panagore is acting executive director of the New Haven Parking Authority and former chief development officer in Springfield.