Lawmakers approve funding for Jackson Laboratory

State government will spend $291 million over the next decade to entice an internationally renowned genetic research institute to move to Farmington after the General Assembly approved Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s initiative in two predominantly partisan votes during Wednesday’s special session.

The House of Representatives voted 101-41 to approve the funding for Maine-based Jackson Laboratory shortly before 10:35 p.m. following a three-hour debate. The Senate endorsed the measure 21-15 earlier Wednesday evening.

Lombardo Lebeau Ojakian

UConn Health’s Joann Lombardo, Sen. Gary LeBeau, Deputy OPM Secretary Mark Ojakian

The funding includes $192 million to construct a 173,000-square-foot research center on the University of Connecticut Health Center campus, and another $99 million to subsidize Jackson Laboratory’s research operating costs for the first decade. In return, the administration estimates, the project will create more than 7,400 jobs over the next two decades.

Connecticut’s contributions to the project will be financed over 20 years, costing the state an additional $153 million in interest, according to the legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis.

“By investing in Bioscience Connecticut, we sent a strong message to the industry that the state is ready, willing and able to be a player,” Malloy wrote in a statement issued immediately after the House vote. “Just five months later, the state is already reaping its rewards, and tonight we took the next step toward reinventing Connecticut as a leader in the industry by officially welcoming JAX to the state.”

Malloy, who first made expanding Connecticut’s bioscience base a priority during last fall’s gubernatorial campaign, added that Wednesday’s legislation was about more than jobs.

“It’s about making Connecticut a leader in a growth industry. When was the last time we could say anything like that?” he said, thanking lawmakers from both parties who supported the measure. “Supporting a smart, strategic investment like this shouldn’t be a partisan issue.  We have the infrastructure, the talent and the drive to make Connecticut a leader in this emerging science, and I’m pleased to welcome Jackson Laboratory to our state.”

The company is expected to spend between $280 million and $290 million on operations over the first decade and $809 million in total over the first 20 years.

Malloy’s fellow Democrats, who hold 22 out of 36 seats in the Senate but had one member absent, unanimously backed the governor. All 14 Republicans opposed the investment.

A similar split occurred in the House, where 93 Democrats teamed with eight Republicans to approve the bill, while 40 GOP members and one Democrat, Rep. Emil “Buddy” Altobello of Meriden cast opposing votes,  arguing it was excessive or that too many questions about the project remain unanswered.

“We’re talking about that ability that they (Jackson Laboratory) have, that singular ability that they have, to bring that science to Connecticut,” said Sen. Gary D. LeBeau, D-East Hartford and co-chairman of the Commerce Committee. His argument that Jackson’s potential to grow jobs in a cutting-edge field transcends the state’s investment was echoed by many of his colleages during the 3-hour and 15-minute debate.

As the Baby Boomer generation become seniors, there is now an unprecedented need for “personalized medicine” or treatments aimed at the specialized maladies that particularly plague the elderly, LeBeau added. “This is a tremendous investment opportunity.”

Advocates of the deal also noted that Connecticut has pursued other high-profile investments without huge results, such as former Gov. John G. Rowland’s bid in late 1998 and early 1999 to lure the New England Patriots to Hartford with the pledge of a publicly financed stadium.

“We’re been burnt before,” House Majority Leader J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said, adding he believes Malloy wants to avoid the mistakes of the past, and will negotiate a final agreement with Jackson Laboratory that protects Connecticut’s interests. “Can he guarantee that that deal is going to be the ultimate deal? No. We have to take a leap of faith.”

“With this legislation, Connecticut is leading and thinking big again,” added Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn.

The not-for-profit research institute is required to have 300 direct jobs at the center by the 10th year, and is expected to create over 660 direct positions within 20 years.

Democrats pointed to administration estimates that more than 4,000 bioscience jobs would be generated largely through spin-off companies, and another 2,000 would be added to local service and retail operations from increased economic activity over the next two decades. Lastly, the project would create more than 840 temporary construction jobs in the next few years.

Catherine Smith, the governor’s commissioner or economic and community development, said that was based on a 2009 analysis of the bioscience industry by PricewaterhouseCoopers, a global accounting and professional services firm that 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 4.3 percent annual jump.

But Sen. Leonard Suzio, R-Meriden, charged that the administration estimate was flawed. Specifically, it calculated those 4,000 spin-off jobs by applying the growth percentages to Connecticut’s entire bioscience workforce cited in the last U.S. Census. That means, he added, those 4,000 jobs should represent growth produced not only by Jackson Laboratory, but by the UConn Health Center, Yale University, and other bioscience research centers here.

“They’re giving Jackson Laboratory the credit for creating all of those jobs,” he said, calling it “a totally incredible assumption. It undermines the credibility of everything DECD has been presenting to us.”

“Don’t rush to judgement,” he added. “Don’t let your euphoria, your enthusiasm, your emotions, rule over your brain You have a responsibility to the taxpayers ladies and gentlemen. … It’s a reckless use of taxpayer money the way its structured right now.”

Republicans also  complained that the tentative deal with Jackson Laboratory guarantees only 300 direct jobs will exist at the new center after 10 years.

“Hope is not a strategy,” said Rep. Arthur O’Neill, R-Southbury, adding that  there is no guarantee that Jackson Laboratory will create attract thousands of spin-off jobs with dramatic new discoveries. “Are they going to be a successful (research center,) or are they going to be the one that just didn’t make it.”

“We have to be very, very careful here. This is no ordinary economic development bill,” said Sen. L. Scott Frantz, R-Greenwich, noting that the tentative deal with Jackson Laboratory doesn’t guarantee Connecticut a share of any new medical technology patents produced with its considerable investment. “There is no provision for Connecticut to share in the fruits of their labor.”

Frantz and many Republicans urged the Senate to delay action to allow the deal to be renegotiated — something Malloy has insisted he will not do.

Sen. Robert Duff, D-Norwalk, told his colleagues that they and their predecessors have complained about Connecticut’s meager job growth too often over the past two decades.

“We can’t continue to take baby steps,” he said. “We’ve got to think big and we’ve got to take big steps. Some of this is a risk, but we have to take risks if we’re going to change this.”

Duff and others noted that Connecticut already has a strong bioscience base with academic and research programs at the UConn Health Center and Yale. “This is Connecticut and this (field) is our sweet spot,” Duff said.

The governor’s office released several statements sent by email Wednesday from existing bioscience firms and research groups hoping to seek Jackson Laboratory located here.

“It will be an important complement to the existing cluster, adding all important critical mass,” wrote Paul Pescatello, president of the New Haven-based CURE, or Connecticut United for Research Excellence. “It will bring UConn to a another (and higher) level of academic achievement, be a critical resource to our biopharma companies and help knit Storrs, Farmington and Yale/New Haven-our nascent research triangle -together.”

“The Jackson initiative will help ensure such technology will be available at the scale needed to build a portfolio of successful business initiatives in Connecticut,” added Susan Froshauer, founder and former CEO of Rib-X Pharmaceuticals in New Haven.