Malloy: ‘I believe we have white smoke’ on jobs bill

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced Tuesday evening that he and legislative leaders had reached bipartisan agreement on new job growth legislation expected to win approval in special session on Wednesday.

“I believe we have white smoke,” Malloy said in a brief statement with Capitol reporters following his second closed-door negotiating session of the day with top lawmakers from the House and Senate.

“We’ve just had another very good meeting,” Democratic governor said, adding that the agreement is subject to leaders receiving a final endorsement from their respective members in private caucuses to be held early Wednesday. “I’m looking forward to Connecticut making bipartisan history on a jobs bill tomorrow.”

Neither the governor nor legislative leaders answered questions about the deal, nor disclosed details of the final agreement.

Malloy had confirmed earlier in the day that a controversial proposal to employ public-private partnerships to implement certain state construction projects was one of a handful of “sticking points” delaying final deal..

Union leaders and members representing thousands of public-sector workers balked at a public hearing last week when administration officials said they wanted greater flexibility to coordinate the design, construction and inspection services for capital projects through the private sector.

Malloy’s budget chief, Office of Policy and Management Secretary Benjamin Barnes, said the partnership approach, often referred to as P-3, would complement the administration’s ongoing efforts to expand state bonding for capital construction projects, boosting a hard-hit industry.

State agencies overseeing capital projects typically coordinate design, construction and inspection services separately, often relying on a variety of companies to perform those roles. They also, depending on the project, may employ state engineers, other designers and inspectors.

Under the P-3 concept, the administration would have more flexibility to deal with one private entity, such as a construction company that would either provide its own design and inspection services, or coordinate with other businesses to provide them.

Union leaders countered that unless government oversight of all aspects of a public project is carefully maintained, they typically ended in botched work and cost-overruns.

“We urge you not to move forward with such an untested and controversial program during the special session,” AFSCME Council 4 legislative director Brian Anderson told lawmakers. “Public-private partnerships reduce transparency, accountability and oversight of public services. And as government oversight shrinks, decisions driven by profit margin, and not a desire to ensure quality work and fair wages, become common.

The State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, which negotiates benefits on behalf of about 45,000 unionized state workers, issued a statement praising Malloy and the legislature for holding a jobs growth special session, but it condemned the P-3 concept.

“Using this special session to rush through bad public policy ideas like ‘design-build’ construction and ‘public-private partnerships’ would be a tragic error,” the coalition statement read. “If implemented, these concepts could reduce oversight and accountability, open the door to corruption and back-room dealing, and ultimately both damage public projects and cost jobs.”

The governor said during his first media briefing on Monday that he believed a compromise might be found by limiting the P-3 approach for those projects whose financing is being repaid with revenues from that project. For example, if Connecticut wished to borrow funds to construct a new parking garage, it could hire a company or companies to design, construct and operate the garage — all under one contract. The company would then provide payments to cover the debt service with profits from the garage receipts.

Though no drafts of legislative language have been released to date, the administration unveiled a broad outline last week of most proposals to be considered in Wednesday’s special legislative session.

State government would invest more than $500 million in bonding for business and infrastructure investments, offer new tax break aimed at small businesses, and hire a consultant to streamline regulations, focusing on four large permit-issuing departments.