New Britain – Gov. Dannel P. Malloy told Connecticut’s construction workers Wednesday he’s doing his best to get more shovels in the ground.

Leaders of the Connecticut State Building & Construction Trades Council said that while they remain confident in the Democratic governor, they’re anxious to see more work get underway.

“We’ve got more work to do,” Malloy told council leaders as they gathered for their annual convention at the Institute of Business Technology and Development at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain. “You know where I’m coming from.”

But the Democratic governor, who inherited a budget deficit of historic proportions when he took office three years ago, has struggled to invest in capital programs while also trying to balance the operating budget.

“I’m working as hard as I can to get this state moving and get as many of you people back to work,” the governor told council representatives, who represent hundreds of construction businesses in 13 different trades and skill sets that employ 30,000 private-sector workers.

“There’s always bonding issues we get concerned about,” David A. Roche, president of the state trades council, said later. “I don’t think we’re there. I would like to see more bonding available. Until I see all of my contractors at work, there’s still room to improve.”

But Roche also said, “The bottom line is the proof is in the pudding,” adding that he’s confident that state investment in construction work has been on the rise since Malloy became governor.

Still, members of the legislature’s Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee began to express concerns this past session amid reports showing that more than $5 billion in financing — primarily for capital projects — had been approved by the State Bond Commission, but never actually borrowed or spent.

And a new report this week from state Treasurer Denise L. Nappier showed nearly $6.2 billion in bonding approved by the commission — which Malloy chairs — still hadn’t been issued or spent through July. Nearly $3.3 billion of those dollars are tied to transportation projects.

There always is some lag between the time financing is approved and when the dollars actually are spent. Sometimes the state waits for more favorable interest rates. Often on large projects, financing approval is needed before work is ready to secure federal dollars.

But legislators began grumbling in December 2010, just before Gov. M. Jodi Rell left office, when the backlogged bonding total had just cleared $3 billion. They argued then that the total, equal to about two years’ worth of approvals by the bond commission, was too large just to blame on normal market conditions.

And as the economic recovery has lagged over the past two years, interest rates have been very favorable.

Now, after two years and nine months of the Malloy administration, that backlog has more than doubled.

“The answer is I would probably like to do more,” Malloy told The Mirror after the convention.

The governor expressed surprise when Jeff Merrow, president of the Waterbury trades council, complained that a long-awaited, $400 million to $450 million widening of Interstate 84 in that community wouldn’t begin until late 2014, or possibly even early 2015.

When Merrow said the local construction industry needs the work sooner than that, Malloy said he thought the project was supposed to begin in the spring of 2014.

The Department of Transportation’s communications office referred The Mirrror to a project update report showing that Merrow is correct, and that a late 2014/early 2015 project start is planned.

Malloy said later he would discuss the matter with DOT Commissioner James Redeker.

Keith has spent most of his 31 years as a reporter specializing in state government finances, analyzing such topics as income tax equity, waste in government and the complex funding systems behind Connecticut’s transportation and social services networks. He has been the state finances reporter at CT Mirror since it launched in 2010. Prior to joining CT Mirror Keith was State Capitol bureau chief for The Journal Inquirer of Manchester, a reporter for the Day of New London, and a former contributing writer to The New York Times. Keith is a graduate of and a former journalism instructor at the University of Connecticut.

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