Legislature approves $626M jobs bill
HARTFORD -- The General Assembly, desperate to pull the state out of its 20-year employment doldrums, was nearly unanimous Wednesday in approving a two-year, $626 million program to fund initiatives on job training, small business growth and infrastructure repair.
Lawmakers hope the wide-ranging legislation, which will be bonded and paid for by taxpayers over 20 years, signals a transactional change for the state, which is battling lingering effects of the recession, a nearly 9-percent unemployment rate and a two-decade record of zero job growth.
The House approved the bill 147-1 after two hours and 45 minutes of debate, then it went to the Senate, which endorsed the legislation 34-1, after a two-and-a-half-hour discussion on their hopes for the state's economy and jobs climate.
At 9 p.m., when the Senate finished voting, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said in a statement he was "proud" that Republicans and Democrats worked together and it was an example of his vision of "reinventing" Connecticut.
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"How often do you see this happening in Washington?" Malloy said. "Putting people back to work and making Connecticut more business-friendly aren't goals owned by any one party, and they aren't owned by any one branch of government -- no single person has cornered the market on good ideas.
"We did something good," said House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, who like Malloy and other lawmakers, visited with state business owners over the last several months, asking them what they need from the Legislature. "We've got a lot more to do."
Cafero, who was involved in intense discussions in recent days with majority Democrats, said it's up to the governor to follow through.
"In this bill, we do a lot of things," he said. "Is it a silver bullet? Does it, in and of itself, reinvent Connecticut? No it does not. It's not a perfect bill, but it's a start and I can't emphasize enough that it is a start."
Sen. L. Scott Frantz, R-Greenwich, said he believes Connecticut is setting a national standard.
"I think it's going to resonate," he said. "I can't sit down without mentioning that it does come with a big price tag."
The jobs legislation was the result of a compromise between Democrats, led by the governor, and minority Republicans in the General Assembly who wanted to help small businesses and streamline the regulatory process. The governor is expected to sign the bill into law Thursday.
The bill includes $180 million over two years for expanded tax credits, including enticements for companies to move to the state. Companies that train disabled workers could get up to $900 per employee per month.
The state's Business Entity Tax, which brings in about $40 million a year by charging every registered company a $250 fee, would be assessed only every other year under the legislation.
There is a $20 million pool of money to clean up and sell state-owned brownfields that are the contaminated legacy of the state's former urban-manufacturing economy; $125 million over five years to startup companies; film and studio tax credits; hundreds of millions of dollars in manufacturing assistance and workforce development and a $50 million bridge-repair program.
Debt service on the borrowed money would total $6.9 million next year, $16.2 million the year after and $21.4 million in the third. Over the 20-year bonding period, the $626 million would cost taxpayers close to $1 billion.
Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said during the Senate floor debate that Malloy promised the program won't be a burden on state taxpayers because he will cut other expenditures and retain the state's annual bonding for capital projects at between $1.2 billion and $1.4 billion.
"We're not adding new debt, we're finding better ways to spend our money and that, at the end of the day, is good progress," McKinney said. "This is a good day because we're taking positive steps in the right direction."
State Sen. Gayle S. Slossberg, D-Milford, co-chairwoman of the Government Administration & Elections Committee, said she was glad to see an effort to promote public-private partnerships to support business growth.
"I'm delighted to see we are also streamlining the regulatory process," she said. "Once this is in the culture of our government, we will continue to see it working for years to come.
Oxford Airport and Sikorsky Memorial Airport in Stratford would be allowed to establish airport development zones, which Sen. Michael A. McLachlan, R-Danbury, warned would give them a competitive advantage over his hometown municipal airport. But his opposition to that segment wasn't enough to get him to vote against the jobs package.
"I look forward to the small businesses in the state of Connecticut rolling up their sleeves and finding ways within this legislation to create new jobs," McLachlan said.
State Rep. David Labriola, R-Oxford, said the airport development zone will help his constituents.
"When we take job-creating steps like this, we move our region and our state in the right direction," Labriola said in a statement. "This zone is exactly the type of economic growth initiative that we need in our community."
Urban lawmakers from Hartford and New Haven led vocal criticism of the bill, warning that it doesn't target inner cities, where unemployment is 14 percent or more.
But when it was time to be counted, they approved the bill, which was a companion piece to another bill opposed by Republicans aimed at attracting a Maine-based bioscience facility.
The dissenter in the House, state Rep. Christopher Coutu, R-Norwich, a candidate for the 2nd Congressional District Republican nomination, said the state should not be investing taxpayer money in the job-creation effort. Sen. Kevin Witkos, R-Canton, was the lone no vote in the Senate.