By Gregory B. Hladky
1:54 PM EDT, June 19, 2012
It's a lovely word that conjures up nightmare visions of vast sums of taxpayer money squandered by political idiots or crooks. A dictionary definition calls it "a wasteful or impractical project often involving graft."
Which leads us, not surprisingly, to our felonious ex-governor-turned-radio-talk-jock, John G. Rowland. He's been flinging the word "boondoggle" around practically every time he uses his radio show to trash the state's $569 million project to build a 9.4 mile busway between New Britain and Hartford.
"This is the biggest waste of taxpayer money in Connecticut history," Rowland said in an e-mailed statement to reporters.
And Rowland knows a lot about boondoggles, not to mention wasting taxpayer money or corruption.
Let's see, there was that little $220 million Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority-Enron debacle engineered by his scum-sucking underling; the sweet corruption deal during his administration involving that $57 million juvenile correctional center in Middletown; and, oh yes, perhaps we should include the billion-dollar Adriaen's Landing project that was supposed to rejuvenate Hartford's downtown but never did.
Our convicted former governor's latest frothing over boondoggles came when he was responding to plans by the Connecticut Laborers' District Council to picket his radio station because he won't let one of their spokesmen on the air to counter his anti-busway comments.
Now, there are lots of reasons why no one should bother to listen to Rowland's on-air blather. One might be the fact that he's now making money off his past criminal efforts to take Connecticut taxpayers and voters for a very sleazy ride.
It's difficult to talk about Rowland without recalling that he was the first governor in Connecticut history to resign in the face of an impeachment investigation. He's also the first to plead guilty to a federal corruption charge and to serve time in prison. And he's the first to ever use that notoriety for financial gain by getting a radio talk show gig.
Of course, our beloved ex-con ex-governor isn't the only one to consider spending nearly $570 million on a busway project of less than 10 miles a potentially risky project. There are all kinds of questions about whether many people will actually ride the thing and whether it can actually reduce car traffic on the often gridlocked section of I-84 between Hartford and New Britain.
The problem is that bit of Rowland-esque overstatement labeling this project the "biggest waste of taxpayer money" in state history. We can't really be sure of that just yet.
We do, however, have some definite standards on wasting taxpayer money from Rowland's tenure as governor.
There was that incredibly convoluted $220 million deal between the soon-to-be-bankrupt energy giant Enron and the CRRA. When Enron went bust, so did the CRRA deal. While the state eventually recovered $111 million from that disaster, the scandal launched the quasi-state CRRA on a downward plunge that now seems irreversible.
And who was the dude at the center of that little disaster? None other than Peter N. Ellef, Rowland's wild-assed co-chief of staff and chairman of the CRRA's board of directors.
Ellef was also a featured player in another Rowland-era boondoggle: the $57 million juvenile center built in Middletown. He and the project's contractor (and Rowland benefactor) William A. Tomasso got caught rigging bids for the center, and both ended up serving lots of federal prison time.
Rowland's successor in office,M. Jodi Rell, thought the center was such an incredibly botched job that she wanted to save money by shutting the whole thing down.
Then there's the crowning jewel of Rowland's administration: Adriaen's Landing, the massive, state-financed project that was supposed to bring Hartford's downtown back from the depths. All those taxpayer dollars (estimates now top $1 billion) would rejuvenate the city, bring in shoppers and tourists and yuppies and provide mixed-income housing and new shops and restaurants.
If you're interested in how that's worked out, please take a walk through the empty, echoing streets between brand-new and still-vacant buildings. The state is still paying $3.9 million a year to help cover operating losses at the Connecticut Convention Center, which was supposed to be the driving force behind the whole operation.
Of course, the Rentschler Field portion of the Adriaen's Landing scheme has been built, but the $92 million, 40,000-seat stadium for UConn football is in East Hartford and does virtually nothing for the economy of Hartford itself.
So Rowland knows plenty about failed projects, idiotic or corrupt politicians, wasting (or stealing) taxpayer dollars, and lying to the public.
He could well be wrong about the busway, but you've got to admit he's got plenty of very personal experience trudging through the boondoggle bogs.
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