GOP, Malloy want no ‘Christmas tree’ at jobs session

The $291 million subsidy for a $1.1 billion genetics lab at UConn Health is dominating the run up to next week’s special session on economic development. But there is another, quieter struggle: fending off pitches for other projects and issues.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the Republican minority may ultimately agree to disagree on the economic incentives offered to the Jackson Laboratory of Maine to come to UConn, but that is only portion of the session that gets a preview today with two committee meetings and a public hearing.

The other is an evolving agenda of economic reforms on which the Democratic governor and the legislature’s Democratic majority and Republican minority hope to agree.

On this agenda, there remains hope, even amid the increasingly testy sparring on Jackson, which is likely to continue today. The Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee meets at 10:30 a.m. and the Commerce Committee meets at 12:30 p.m., with a public hearing at 2:30 p.m.

“If you really want to make something bipartisan, you have to reach consensus,” said Roy Occhiogrosso, the governor’s senior adviser. “One way to get consensus is for both sides to say no to some of their traditional constituency groups.”

That means Democrats telling organized labor to come back in February, when the next regular session begins, to talk about job programs or spending that might be unacceptable to Republicans.

That means GOP leaders telling their rank-and-file to forget reopening the debate over tax increases or a state law passed earlier this year that made Connecticut the first state to mandate that some private employers off paid sick days.

“What you are asking us to do is take our philosophical ideas about the high rate of taxation, government regulation, sick days and put them aside for a day so we can do something together,” said House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk. “I’m all for it.”

But there is a catch.

Cafero says he will work to keep the session narrowly focused, so long as the Democrats can do the same. If the consensus package becomes a “Christmas tree,” legislative parlance for a bill that covers lots of goodies, it will cease to be bipartisan.

“So here’s the deal breaker: If this is going to be a Christmas tree…I want no part of it,” Cafero said. “If they break their end, we’re breaking ours.”

Legislators are hard-wired to take advantage of opportunities presented by legislation that is sure to win passage, such as a consensus jobs package. A wide range of ideas all could come under the rubric of job creation.

Sunday liquor sales? The industry says it will generate more business. Malloy’s staff has waved off that controversial idea, even though the governor might be open to it in February.

Both parties say it is in their interest to show the state can act without partisanship on least some economic development ideas.

“I think the value to the state is the governor has made clear on day one he wants to send the business community a message that we’re open for business,” Occhiogrosso said. “Part of being open for business is to check partisan wrangling at the door when you talk about jobs and the economy. We’re not Washington D.C.”

Cafero said he senses the governor is eager for a bipartisan showpiece after relying on party-line votes to pass his budget and win approval for an expansion at the UConn Health Center, including the bioscience initiative that attracted the Jackson Laboratory.

“There is a flip side to that, too,” Cafero said, acknowledging a political benefit for the GOP. “We don’t want to be seen as the party that threw an obstacle into the jobs package if it’s truly a jobs package. We don’t want to say, ‘No, no, no, no.’ What good is that?”