It is a tale of two bills.
As the legislature prepares for a special session next week on creating jobs, negotiators are getting close to a bipartisan deal on a jobs package that would have widespread support. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy met with Republicans and Democrats at the state Capitol for more than two hours Tuesday – one of the longest leadership meetings in recent memory – as they got closer and closer on the details.
The second bill – on providing incentives for Maine-based Jackson Laboratory to create 300 new jobs on the University of Connecticut Health Center campus in Farmington – is a different story.
Republicans say they still have too many unanswered questions about a deal that some caucus members believe is too sweet for Jackson and potentially bitter for the state. Sen. Leonard Suzio, a conservative Republican from Meriden, says the plan is essentially “a bribe’’ that is designed to entice Jackson to come to Connecticut, but House Republican leader Larry Cafero said Tuesday that he does not consider the deal to be a bribe. But he says the deal still appears too lucrative for Jackson, and he is asking for more restrictions in an agreement that is still being negotiated by Malloy’s administration.
“They don’t have to produce 300 jobs until 10 years down the road,’’ Cafero said. “One of the obvious questions was: can they produce 300 jobs in five years? … Let’s talk about five-year increments. When they hit that target, then we can talk about additional money. It’s about minimizing the risk. … We’ve been burnt before.’’
The detailed discussions with Malloy Tuesday took place in advance of informational hearings that will be held separately Thursday on the Jackson proposal and the overall jobs package. To gain approval, the Jackson proposal needs a simple majority in both the state House of Representatives and the Senate.
House Speaker Christopher Donovan, who oversees 99 Democrats in the 151-member House of Representatives, said many of his members are optimistic about the Jackson agreement that was announced by Malloy less than three weeks ago.
“People see it as a future for Connecticut that is very promising in terms of scientific discovery, economic development, education, use of our healthcare facilities,’’ Donovan said.
“In my caucus, everyone wants to be supportive and make it successful. We’re going into it with a positive outlook. … We see them as a really valuable company in our state, so it’s in our best interest to work out an agreement.’’
But Senate Republican leader John McKinney of Fairfield still has questions, including why Jackson is seeking ownership of the building before the first employee walks in the front door. Republicans have also questioned the economic projection that the Jackson project would generate about 6,800 jobs, including indirect jobs that would include construction, retail, real estate, rental, and restaurant jobs. McKinney said he sees no reason to rush for a pre-Halloween vote that is scheduled to take place on October 26.
“I don’t think we lose Jackson Labs if it’s November 26 or December 26,’’ McKinney told reporters outside Malloy’s Capitol office. “I think the worst thing we could do is rush a $300 million development deal. They negotiated with Florida for almost 2 1/2 years before things fell though. I don’t imagine Jackson Labs is going to give up on Connecticut if we need a little more time to make sure all the questions are answered.’’
Regarding the unanswered questions on the Jackson deal, McKinney said, “If this had been a deal proposed by one of the prior two governors, we would have had 15 press conferences, public hearings galore, and the former attorney general would have had press conferences on it. Let’s be honest. The majority has said very little about this deal, and if it had been proposed by Governor Rell or Governor Rowland, we would have heard a lot. … Anybody who has been around here for the last 15 years would be hard pressed to disagree with me.’’
The story was completely different on a separate bill that would be a bipartisan jobs package, which would include tax incentives that are still being discussed behind closed doors. Malloy says he wants to “sharpen the tools’’ that are already held by the state Department of Economic and Community Development and create new tools that are needed.
“We’re 90 percent there, subject to some drafting’’ of legislation, Malloy said as McKinney, Cafero, Donovan, and others stood around him after the meeting. “As unbelievable as it may seem, we’re getting closer to what looks like could be a bipartisan jobs session. I think we’re darn close, and I don’t think anyone is disagreeing that we’re darn close. … I even have McKinney and Cafero agreeing on things. It’s amazing.’’
Lawyers for Republicans, Democrats, and the governor’s office have been working on the legislation, and a draft could be available as early as today. “I think we all remain optimistic that, for one day, we could join together and show the world and the business community that when it comes to jobs, there’s no Republican jobs or Democratic jobs,’’ Cafero said.
Donovan agreed on the jobs package, which is popular in his caucus.
“I’d be surprised if there would be a no vote, but I’m not going to predict,’’ he said.