HARTFORD, CT (WCBS 880 / AP) - Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy and legislative leaders said Tuesday they are close to reaching a final bipartisan deal on a bill that's supposed to help create jobs, but Republican lawmakers said they still have serious concerns about a second bill that would authorize tens of millions of dollars in borrowing for a new laboratory at the University of Connecticut Health Center.
WCBS 880 Connecticut Bureau Chief Fran Schneidau On The Story
House Minority Leader Larry Cafero, R-Norwalk, said he believes the proposal from The Jackson Laboratory, a Maine-based genetic research institute, is exciting. But he said there are still many unanswered questions about the project, which calls for the state to provide the institute with a $192 million forgivable loan and $99 million in research funding.
"Is it an exciting project? Do they do incredible God's work? Absolutely. Do we want them in Connecticut? Without question,'' Cafero said. "We've been burnt before ... We're not at the stage where we've gotten those answers yet.''
Rank-and-file legislators are returning to the state Capitol on Oct. 26 for the special legislative session dedicated to long- and short-term job creation. It follows weeks of business tours and economic forums held by Malloy and legislative leaders. Connecticut's unemployment rate is currently 9 percent, about the same as the national average.
The special session is welcome news to Peter Gioia, the chief economist for the Connecticut Business & Industry Assocaition, which recently reported barely half of Connecticut companies are reporting profits.
"We were surprised. Normally, you know, we're seeing somewhere between 70 and 75 percent profitable," he told WCBS 880 Connecticut Bureau Chief Fran Schneidau.
Malloy, a Democrat, emerged from a two-hour closed-door meeting with legislative leaders on Tuesday to announce they have reached agreement on 90 percent of the main jobs bills. While he didn't release any details, the governor has said it will likely touch on creating a better-educated and prepared workforce, reducing over-regulation, expanding access to capital - particularly for smaller firms and start-ups - and making sure Connecticut is competitive in offering incentives to businesses to locate and expand here.
The remaining issues are expected to be wrapped up by mid-day on Wednesday.
"As unbelievable as it may seem, we're getting closer to what looks like it could be a bipartisan jobs session,'' said Malloy, who was unable to persuade the General Assembly's minority Republicans to support his budget earlier this year. He said the bill will include ideas from Democratic and Republican lawmakers as well as his administration.
Malloy conceded that support for the Jackson Labs bill will not likely be bipartisan, however.
"I have acknowledged that some folks simply aren't going to support it. That will be one vote,'' Malloy said. "I believe ... that we're going to get a bipartisan jobs package alongside of that.''
The legislature has scheduled informational committee hearings Thursday on the jobs bill and the $1.1 billion Jackson Laboratory legislation.
Malloy and Jackson officials announced the agreement with Jackson late last month to much fanfare, promising 661 new research jobs over 20 years, nearly 850 construction jobs and almost 6,900 long-term direct and indirect jobs over the next 20 years. But Republicans have pointed out that the deal requires Jackson to provide just 300 jobs in 10 years, and said the state would have to immediately turn over title to the new building. The state's construction loan would be forgiven if Jackson meets the terms of the agreement.
They've questioned exactly what those jobs will be and whether Jackson would be allowed to take nearly the full 10 years to create them.
Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, who stood with Malloy when the project was first announced, questioned why lawmakers need to vote on the loan and research money for Jackson next week. He said he's concerned the project is being rushed and doesn't believe Jackson Labs will pull out of the deal if the vote is delayed to November or December.
"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,'' said McKinney, referring to how Connecticut's last two governors were Republicans. "Let's be honest. The majority has said very little about this deal and if it had been proposed by Governor (M. Jodi) Rell or Governor (John G.) Rowland, we would have heard a lot from them.''
House Speaker Christopher Donovan, D-Meriden, said the Democrats also want to make sure the final deal protects the state. But he expressed no problem with proceeding with next week's vote.
"We have an opportunity to create a new industry in our state. I think it's exciting, it has great potential,'' he said. "I think we should do whatever we can to develop it.''
The state currently has a signed letter of intent with Jackson Labs, which spells out the framework of an agreement, said Jim Watson, a spokesman for the Department of Economic and Community Development. After next week's vote and the expected approval of the funding, the state will enter into a legal, binding contract with Jackson Labs.
(TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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