GOP wants to add new conditions to Jackson Laboratory deal

Top Republican state legislators offered a few suggestions Tuesday for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy if he hopes to win bipartisan support for a $291 million state commitment to attract an internationally recognized genetic research firm to Connecticut.

And while the Democratic governor acknowledged again Tuesday that he might not have major GOP support for the Jackson Laboratory project — support he likely won’t need provided majority Democrats back his plan — he remained optimistic about winning bipartisan backing for a job creation agenda to be considered in special session next week.

“I’m concerned that we may be rushing it,” Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said regarding the bioscience initiative, adding that he’s skeptical the Maine-based lab would walk away if legislative approval takes a few extra months. “I don’t know that this has to happen on Oct. 26.”

“Do we want to get them in Connecticut? Absolutely,” added House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero, R-Norwalk. “But we’ve been burnt before.”

Chief among the Republican ideas involves retain state ownership of the 173,000-square-foot lab Connecticut would build for the research firm on the campus of the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington until a portion or all of the job creation targets tied to the project are met, Cafero said.

Both the governor’s staff and Jackson Laboratory officials have estimated the company would create 661 direct jobs at the center — to complement 4,000 spin-off positions, 2,000 service and retail jobs in the surrounding economy — over the next two decades. And that’s on top of 840 temporary construction positions added in the next few years.

But a tentative agreement negotiated by the administration and the company guarantees only 300 direct jobs would be created by the end of the first decade, while Jackson Laboratory would take immediate ownership of the center once completed.

“Once they do that, then we can turn over the title” to the property, Cafero said. “That way we have more job security.”

Malloy’s commissioner of economic and community development, Catherine Smith, said last week that the job projections are conservative. She noted that a 2009 analysis of the bioscience industry by Pricewaterhousecoopers, a global accounting and professional services firm, is projecting 11 percent annual growth for the foreseeable future. But the administration, in preparing job estimates, pulled back dramatically in the second decade, assuming a modest 4.5 percent annual jump.

Connecticut’s $291 million stake in an overall project priced at $1.1 billion would include a forgivable, $192 million loan for upfront construction costs and $99 million in research support grants over the next 10 years.

Some Republicans also would favor delaying some of the research funding until after some job creation benchmarks have been met, Cafero said, adding that he hopes both parties will work to resolve concerns before two legislative committees conduct a public hearing on Friday on the Jackson Laboratory project.

Malloy’s senior policy advisor, Roy Occhiogrosso, said administration officials have and will continue to work hard to answer Republican questions, but not to restructure the tentative agreement.

“We have provided them with a lot of answers and we are happy to provide them with more answers,” he said. “But the agreement is not changing.”

House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan, D-Meriden, said some members of his majority caucus have questions about the deal, “but we’re going into it with a positive outlook. … Legislators as a body want to do their due diligence. But people are looking at it as a very exciting project.

Malloy and lawmakers discussed the bioscience initiative following two hours and 10 minutes of closed-door negotiations on a package of job promotion bills also expected to be considered at the Oct. 26 special session.  Malloy characterized the talks afterward as largely positive.

“I think we can correctly report we’re 90 percent of the way there,” he said, predicting the group would settle on a bipartisan job creation plan that “is not gloss” but rather “a road map to job creation in Connecticut.”

“I even had McKinney and Cafero agreeing with things,” Malloy quipped just before ending a brief question-and-answer period with reporters. It’s amazing.”

Neither Malloy nor legislative leaders provided details of the legislation under negotiation, but also top lawmakers from both parties shared his optimism that a deal could be reached before the session.

“We made a lot of progress,” Cafero said. “I think everyone is earnest in trying to come to a solution.”

“Every person in that room was working very earnestly to come to a solution,” Donovan said, calling Tuesday’s meeting a “remarkable discussion.”

Administration officials and several legislators from both parties have acknowledged there is a broad consensus to make reforms in several areas, including: reducing regulations and streamlining the state permitting process, improving access to capital, and enhancing education and workforce training.