Democrats, Republicans find rare moment of unity with jobs bill

In a move rarely seen this legislative session, Democrats and Republicans united on major legislation Friday when the Senate overwhelmingly adopted Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s incentive plan to create 1,000 new full-time jobs in the next two years.

The Senate voted 32-4 to adopt the “First Five” measure, which now heads to the House of Representatives.

“For too long, Connecticut has been reactive to news that jobs are leaving the state or companies are closing their doors, instead of being proactive in trying to keep them here.  That stops now,” Malloy said Friday. “We are sending a strong, clear message to the business community–small, medium, and large–that we want your companies here and we’ll work with you to make that happen.”

After watching marathon partisan debates of six hours or more over everything from budget issues and paid sick leave, to prisoner release policies and tuition rates for legal immigrants, Sen. Gary D. LeBeau, D-East Hartford, was mildly amused when 10 Republicans sided with 22 Democrats to adopt “First Five” in just 51 minutes.

“I think that was all due to a four-letter word–jobs,” said LeBeau, co-chairman of the Commerce Committee and one of those who helped craft the final legislation. “We know our economy is not out of the woods yet in Connecticut. This bill gave people the opportunity to vote for something that can help the job situation. How can you be against this?”

“This is what we need to spur the economy, to spur job growth,” said Sen. Robert Kane of Watertown, ranking GOP senator on the Appropriations Committee.

Both LeBeau and Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, expressed hope that the program could be expanded in a few years. “I think we all hope the first five turns into the first 15 and then the first 100,” McKinney said.

The bill gives the administration discretion to award “substantial financing assistance” annually to up to five new companies or to existing businesses planning to expand id they  agree to create at least 200 new jobs by July 1, 2013, or to invest $25 million in their business and create 200 new jobs within the next five years.

Though the bill doesn’t define all forms that “assistance” might take, LeBeau said it could include tax credits, low-interest loans or technical consulting, or employee education and skill upgrades. He added that at least 10 companies have expressed some degree of interest in the program and that he believes the program would be particularly effective at attracting the high-technology, cutting-edge firms Connecticut needs. “We’re not looking for the easy out here,” he said. “We’re looking for good, permanent jobs.”

The measure also expands funding for the Urban and Industrial Site Reinvestment Tax Credit program from $500 million to $750 million, and increases the Job Creation Tax Credit from $11 million to $20 million.

Despite the strong support received Friday, the program did run into some criticism.

Sen. Tony Guglielmo of Stafford, a longtime opponent of expensive government incentives for larger companies on the grounds that Connecticut’s larger pool of small business owners consistently are excluded, said this program isn’t much different from past incentive plans “We always pick winners and losers and I think this is picking winners and losers on steroids,” Guglielmo said. “Most of the businesspeople in Connecticut are not going to get a crack at this money. It’s more of the same and it doesn’t work.”

Though McKinney voted for the measure, he objected to a provision that allows the administration to award large-scale financial assistance to specific firms without having to obtain legislative approval.

McKinney called it “ironic” given Malloy’s campaign pledges to improve transparency and accountability in government.

LeBeau said the legislative approval requirement was lifted to give the administration flexibility to respond quickly to companies’ expansion plans, adding McKinney’s objections didn’t stop the GOP leader from endorsing the program. “I think he was having a little fun” with that complaint, LeBeau said.