Governor makes pitch for non-partisan special session on jobs

This is a crucial day for the administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, with results expected from a second ratification vote on a labor concession deal. But in talks with legislative leaders, Malloy already is looking ahead, trying to lay the groundwork for a partisanship-free special session on jobs.

The Democratic administration has talked with Republican and Democratic legislative leaders this week in an effort to make the upcoming General Assembly special session a bipartisan opportunity to brand Connecticut’s political establishment as united on economic development.

“Nobody has disagreed with the concept: A demonstration of a non-partisan commitment to growing Connecticut’s economy,” said Timothy Bannon, the governor’s chief of staff.

With strong Democratic majorities in both chambers, Malloy could pass an economic-development package on a party-line vote, as was the case with his budget and other issues during the regular session. In fact, the GOP minority ended the session feeling marginalized.

But Senate Minority Leader John P. McKinney, R-Fairfield, said he believes that Republicans are open to the administration’s overtures about the importance of showing business a government united on job creation.

“I think there is a lot of common ground,” McKinney said. “Also, I am of the belief that we need to stop fighting as Republicans and Democrats, especially in light of what’s happening in Washington. I think there’s been a higher level of disgust with government, and what happens in Washington has an impact on us as well.”

Early this year, McKinney and House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, welcomed Malloy as a pragmatic, moderate Democrat whom they knew well as the mayor of Fairfield County’s largest city, Stamford. They applauded his commitment to end the state’s practice of papering over deficits.

But any hope of a working relationship on the budget ended when Malloy proposed a $1.5 billion tax increase as a major element of his plan to erase an inherited deficit of more than $3 billion. Malloy’s budget passed without a single GOP vote.

And they bitterly fought him over the passage of the first state mandate in the nation on some businesses to provide paid sick days, a policy they say sent a hostile message about the state’s business climate. The sick days law was passed with only one Republican vote.

McKinney said Republicans remain in favor of repealing the law, but he does not believe the special session on jobs should be a rehash of battles fought in the regular session that ended in June.

“We need to be about doing the possible,” he said.

Even if sufficient numbers of Democrats changed their minds about sick days, McKinney said, “You still have a governor who would veto it, so undoing that law at this time would seem unrealistic.”

Cafero, who met Thursday with Bannon and other top administration officials, said today he also is disinclined to use the session to score more political points about what his caucus sees as an ill-advised sick-days law.

“That’s not going to get us anywhere,” he said.

The administration also needs to demonstrate that it wants the session to be substantive, not just a political or public-relations exercise, Cafero said. A bipartisan session will require true collaboration, such as the administration’s outreach last session to the GOP on a new airport authority and a major energy bill, he said.

Administration officials say a non-partisan or bipartisan approach to repairing the state’s economic climate– the state has ranked near the bottom of all states in job-creation for two decades–is seen as a necessary signal to business. The approach has become an end, as well as a means, on job creation.

“Economic development, to some extent, is marketing,” Bannon said. “You have to have a good product, but you have to market it properly. The purpose of the session is to develop and sharpen the tools that make Connecticut’s economic development products the best.”

Roy Occhiogrosso, the governor’s senior adviser, said Washington is providing a template for what not to do on economic policy. President Obama has announced another initiative on jobs, but the news was greeted with derision by congressional Republicans.

“It wasn’t just the credit downgrade. It was not just the fact we were bumping up against the deadline for the debt ceiling. It was that Washington was so wrapped up in partisanship, it was clear it rattled the markets,” he said. “The governor made clear he wants to send a very different signal to the business community in Connecticut.”

To the disappointment of some labor allies, Malloy has repeatedly signaled he is attuned to the business community, stocking his administration with appointees welcomed by business, especially his choice of Catherine Smith, a former top executive of ING, to oversee economic development.

Malloy refused calls from labor and the left to sharply raise taxes on the rich, saying it would place Connecticut at a competitive disadvantage with neighboring states, particularly New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts.

On Wednesday, Malloy toured a UTC subsidiary that makes fuel cells and then met with the Greater Hartford Arts Council, part of a “jobs tour” he began at the end of the session to gather information for the special session–and to change a political narrative that focused on his labor talks.

Malloy said after his last stop that his overtures to the GOP on the jobs session are genuine.

“I’m trying to work with everybody. That is certainly something we want to foster,” Malloy said. “I invite them to the table to work on a strategy that will allow us to create jobs in the state of Connecticut again. And I mean that invitation wholeheartedly.”

The administration has not made any specific proposals for the special session, which Malloy proposed. McKinney said his advice to the administration is to “err on the side of boldness, rather than timidity.”

If the labor concession deal is ratified today, the administration will make the case that Malloy has stabilized the state’s finances and redefined its relationship with labor through the deal, which is projected to save $21 billion over the next two decades in lower pension and health costs.

“That’s a pretty strong signal to the business community that Connecticut is a pretty good place to do business,” Occhiogrosso said.

The little information that has emerged about the union voting has been positive.

Sharon Palmer, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, said Wednesday that all five AFT bargaining units have ratified the deal, including one unit the rejected the first tentative agreement.

“Hopefully, this is a sign of better news ahead,” she said.

Union sources said CSEA/SEIU, which passed the first package by a 2-1 margin, rolled up an even bigger margin. But none of the four unions that rejected the first deal have released information on the voting.

Today at midday, the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition expects to announce whether the second effort by unionized state employees to ratify a concession package has succeeded.

Malloy said he has been encouraged by what he sees as a better effort by union leaders to explain the tentative agreement, which freezes pay for two years and makes early retirement less lucrative, but guarantees job security for four years.

“I’m hopeful it’s going to pass,” Malloy said.

With a change in rules adopted after a nearly identical tentative deal was rejected, ratification now requires approval by a simple majority of eight of the 15 member unions, not the 14 originally required.