Jobs bill gains across-the-board support [Journal Inquirer]

October 27, 2011

By Ed Jacovino
Journal Inquirer
Published: Thursday, October 27, 2011

HARTFORD — The wide-ranging bill aimed at spurring the state economy and helping businesses create jobs cleared the Democrat-controlled legislature Wednesday with near-unanimous support.

But its passage wasn’t without a hiccup. A spending projection by the legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis found the bill’s proposals would cost $701 million in state borrowing over the next several years, and more than $1 billion after interest.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget chief, Benjamin Barnes, said last week the package would total $516 million. Barnes later said that figure was for two years, but the OFA put the two-year figure at $626 million.

Lawmakers proceeded unfazed, saying they supported the bill for its policies. The bill now awaits Malloy’s signature.
The measure authorizes a host of economic development incentives. It extends Malloy’s “First Five” subsidy package to an additional five companies, speeds up state permitting process, and expands a job training program at a community college in Enfield to other parts of the state. It also focuses on new and small businesses.

Rep. Timothy Ackert, R-Coventry, said he supports parts of the bill that require schools to inform students of their options to attend vocational and technical high schools.

“Not everybody is cut out for college, and we really put an emphasis for kids on college,” said Ackert, an electrician. “Getting people to hit the ground running with a good job — we can do that with legislation like this.”

And Rep. Pamela Z. Sawyer, R-Bolton, praised a program to spend $5 million to improve farmland or create farms on vacant land. She also approved of a $1 million item to remake the state website that deals with businesses.

“We want to make it easier for businesses to work with the state,” Sawyer said.

The bill also identifies the manufacturing training program at Asnuntuck Community College as an example to be expanded across the state, and the bill includes $20 million to create similar programs at three other community colleges and three technical high schools. It includes an extra $2.2 million to expand the program at Asnuntuck.

Sen. John A. Kissel, R-Enfield, had asked for the money in a letter to Malloy last week, saying Asnuntuck should benefit if it’s serving as a model for other schools.

“While it would be ideal to duplicate the program at college campuses across Connecticut, the need for jobs is now and this facility already exists,” Kissel said Wednesday. “Expanding the existing facility and programs at Asnuntuck will address the need for jobs and trained workers immediately.”

Enfield Reps. Kathleen M. Tallarita and David W. Kiner, both Democrats, also supported the extra money for the school.

The jobs bill faced some opposition from the legislature’s Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, whose members overwhelmingly represent urban districts. They complained it didn’t address the urban unemployed.

“This bill does not do enough for creating jobs in the places where we need it the most: the urban centers,” Rep. Minnie Gonzalez, D-Hartford, said. She ended up voting for the proposal.

As for opposition, the measure received only one negative vote in each chamber.

Rep. Christopher D. Coutu, R-Norwich, voted no, saying the bill doesn’t do enough to address the needs of businesses in his district. He’s running against U.S. Rep Joseph D. Courtney, a Democrat who represents the 2nd Congressional District.

Sen. Kevin Witkos, R-Canton, also voted no. He said the bill wasn’t worth its cost. “I believe it’s a billion dollars that we don’t have,” Witkos said.

The bill was negotiated by Malloy, a Democrat, and legislative leaders from both parties. All sides celebrated it as an example of bipartisanship in state government.

“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,” Malloy said. “No single person has cornered the market on good ideas. I’m proud of what we were able to accomplish today on behalf of the residents and businesses in this state.”

The measure was one of two to pass Wednesday during the special legislative session on jobs. The other calls for borrowing $291 million to subsidize the Main genetics research group expansion at the University of Connecticut Health Center. The two bills took different paths. The research subsidies passed on near party-line votes in the House and Senate.

The details

The jobs bill includes a wide range of items.

For small businesses, it includes a $100 million Small Business Express Program which gives loans, forgivable loans, or matching grants from $10,000 to $250,000 to small businesses and small manufacturers. Companies can get the money to fund machinery and equipment, construction, relocation, marketing, and training, or to use as working capital.

To speed permitting, the bill would require the state to study its permitting and enforcement process and return with recommendations. Also, State Traffic Commission applications would have to be decided within 60 days. If they’re not, the permit is automatically approved.

It would double the number of companies from 50 to 100 that can participate in the Manufacturing Reinvestment Account program, which allows companies to set aside their profits in an interest-earning account to use later for training workers or buying equipment.

The bill would increase the “job creation” tax credit to $500 per month for each new employee and could go up to $900 per month with hires of people who are unemployed, disabled, or veterans.

It would borrow $20 million to clean up state-owned contaminated properties, or “brownfields,” and to market and sell them for private development.

The bill also includes a reauthorization of the First Five development program that gives incentives to companies that create at least 200 jobs in two years or invest $25 million and create at least 200 jobs in five years.

One new item is the Main Street Investment Fund, worth $5 million yearly in grants to towns with fewer than 30,000 residents to improve commercial centers for projects such as facade or awning improvements, sidewalk construction, street lighting, and renovation.

One of the more controversial elements of the bill allows for public-private partnerships. The bill allows Malloy to enter into five such relationships before the end of his term. The company would design, develop, finance, build, operate, or maintain facilities, such as a parking garage, a port, or schools.

The partnerships were proposed by Malloy and supported by Republicans. But labor unions are opposed, saying the idea would limit state oversight.