Gov. Malloy pulls a ‘180’ on airport plan

August 1, 2011

Op-Ed as it appeared in the Waterbury Republican-American on August, 1, 2011

Last week, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said he thinks developing the area surrounding Oxford Airport is a good idea. Previously, he vetoed a bill that would do just that.

Why the sudden change of heart? That was the question many in Greater Waterbury were left asking after the governor’s 180-degree turn.

The original bill, which I co-sponsored with Rep. David K. Labriola, R-Oxford, Rep. Arthur J. O’Neill, R-Southbury, and Rep. Anthony J. D’Amelio, R-Waterbury, offered tax exemptions and tax credits to manufacturers and other eligible businesses that develop or acquire property in designated tracts in Oxford, Southbury and Middlebury. Modeled after the Bradley Airport enterprise zone, it would have cost a mere $75,000 to implement. That’s quite a bargain when you consider Gov. Malloy just approved a deal that could send up to $71 million in taxpayers’ dollars to a single Greater Hartford insurance giant.

The Oxford Airport bill was approved unanimously by the Senate and sailed through the House on 145-1 vote. It was widely praised for its potential to create jobs in Oxford, Middlebury and Southbury. Among the key backers were Democrats Jeffrey Berger of Waterbury and House Speaker Christopher Donovan of Meriden.

It all seemed like a no-brainer, and we were stunned when the governor described the bill as “premature” and said he wanted to wait until the recently created Connecticut Airport Authority came up with a more detailed plan before authorizing the tax exemptions.

Premature? What was the governor waiting for?

Had he not seen the 11.2 percent unemployment rate in Greater Waterbury? Had he not been on a “Jobs Tour” of the state, saying Connecticut is open for business? Had he not taken note that the airport is situated at a convenient, accessible location just off Interstate 84, and that its surrounding area is ripe for growth?

But days later, Gov. Malloy changed his economic-development tune. He announced he would help create jobs around the area of the airport along with — wait for it — other Democratic lawmakers.

Allow me to translate. The governor was telling us that when this bill was a Republican idea that passed nearly unanimously in the legislature, it was bad, and now that it is the governor’s idea, it’s good.

Harry S. Truman once said, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” Those words ring true in this situation. We will embrace the governor’s 180-degree turn and give him all the credit he wants, because we want what’s best for our districts. He should have all the ribbon-cutting, groundbreaking and dedication ceremonies he desires. In the end, the governor’s 180-degree turn will mean jobs for our area, and that’s what matters most.

That being said, it has become clear that Gov. Malloy’s economic-development policy is one that picks winners and losers. Why can’t we just make Connecticut more hospitable for all businesses to grow and thrive? Instead, consider during the past six months, the state tax on businesses has been doubled. Our gasoline tax is now the highest in the lower 48 states. The largest tax increase in state history was approved: $3.7 billion over the next two years. A new law requires businesses of 50 employees or more to offer paid sick time or face fines. No other state has such an onerous mandate.

No significant unfunded state mandate relief took place, putting even more pressure on local property taxes. To add insult to injury, 73,000 Connecticut employers are now receiving bills for unemployment interest — a “special assessment” that will be in place for several years. Employers are being charged $1.70 per $1,000 of taxable payroll, to a maximum of $25.50 for each employee.

Still, the governor’s actions regarding Oxford Airport developmen are a step in the right direction. He has a long journey ahead of him, but we will continue to work with him for the betterment of our region.