Malloy offers plan to tackle CT’s urban unemployment

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy unveils urban jobs initiatives outside Faith Congregational Church in Hartford. (Civic and municipal leaders in background)

CT Mirror

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy unveils urban jobs initiatives outside Faith Congregational Church in Hartford. Civic and municipal leaders are the background.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced a series of initiatives Monday to expand job training and small business assistance, particularly in the state’s cities, a key part of the governor’s political base.

Among the proposals Malloy unveiled during a late morning press conference in Hartford’s North End were: tax credits for expanding businesses; grants and low-interest loans; more state investments in affordable housing and a new state-funded public works program.

Most of the programs the governor announced Monday traditionally are paid for through borrowing — a tool Malloy’s critics argue he already relies upon too heavily. And Malloy offered no details on how he would pay for the one big item that would come out of the annual budget, $20 million per year in new tax relief for small businesses.

The governor, who took office in January 2011 as Connecticut struggled to emerge from what economists have dubbed “The Great Recession,” has tried to put the best face on a recovery that has lagged the region and the nation.

Malloy said Connecticut has regained about 60,000 private-sector jobs since he took office and enjoys its lowest unemployment rate in six years. This past spring he signed a bill that will lift the state’s $8.70-per-hour minimum wage to $10.10 by January 2017.

“Just because we’ve made progress doesn’t mean that we’ve accomplished the mission, or that that progress has been shared evenly throughout the state of Connecticut,” Malloy said while surrounded by municipal and civic leaders outside the Faith Congregational Church on Main Street. “Until every Connecticut worker that wants a job has one, with good pay and benefits that they can use to support their families, our work will not be done.”

The Democratic governor, who is facing Greenwich Republican Tom Foley this year in a rematch of the 2010 contest, narrowly won’ four years ago due largely to an overwhelming advantage in Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport.

But these urban centers also struggle with some of Connecticut’s highest unemployment levels.

To attack that problem, Malloy said Monday he would expand the Small Business Express Program he and the legislature created in late 2011.

Since then state officials have dedicated about $150 million to small companies that want to expand, and Malloy said he would look to add another $100 million over the next two years, with top priority for the new funds going to businesses owned by women or by minorities.

The governor also wants to increase state tax credits for small businesses that expand by about $20 million in each of the next two years, with an emphasis on jobs created for urban residents, veterans and the disabled.

Though most of the initiatives would be paid for with long-term financing, the tax credits could be particularly problematic, since the lost revenue would come out of  the state budget.

Nonpartisan legislative fiscal analysts are projecting a $1.4 billion shortfall – more than 7 percent of annual expenses – in the first new budget after the election. And that projection already assumes over $360 million in tax revenue growth tied to an improving economy.

Still, Malloy has downplayed that deficit, arguing that the recovery has been underestimated and that he can balance the books and even finance some tax relief by limiting spending – though he hasn’t detailed specific cuts.

Malloy has said repeatedly he won’t raise taxes, if re-elected, and when asked Monday whether he would boost taxes if that were the only way to pay for his new economic development initiatives, the governor was noncommittal.

“I don’t think that will be necessary, to tell you the truth,” Malloy said of the prospect of tax hikes. The governor added that some of the new spending he is proposed would be “reallocation of other assets, so it’s not necessarily all new spending.”

Malloy said Monday’s proposal is the first of several policy initiatives his campaign will unveil in the coming weeks, and suggested voters contrast that with a Foley campaign that has declined to provide details behind most of the GOP candidate’s budget and economic development positions.

“This is a real plan with real targets,” Malloy said. “It is not a series of talking points. … It’s a shame the way he (Foley) has been running his campaign.”

“This is just more of the same,” said Foley spokesman Mark McNulty. “Apparently 1 percent growth, one of the worst job recovery rates in the country, and higher taxes are good enough for Dan Malloy. It’s not good enough for Tom Foley, we can and will do better with a new direction for Connecticut.”

Other initiatives the governor announced Monday include:

  • Creating a new $5 million trust to provide low-interest loans and grants to landlords to help make affordable housing units building-code compliant.
  • Creating a $5 million “rapid rehousing” fund to help move families from homeless shelters to affordable housing.
  • Dedicating $10 million to expand job training in urban centers with a focus on finding work for the physically disabled, mentally ill and recently released prison inmates.
  • Allowing the state Department of Economic and Community Development to guarantee up to $20 million in loans for minority-owned contractors working on public projects in Hartford, New Haven, New London or Bridgeport.
  • Launching the ConnectiCorps program, which would dedicate $15 million over the next two years to hire an estimated 1,500 urban unemployed to work on infrastructure construction, public service projects, and for private-nonprofit community groups.

Malloy also reminded reporters that, under his administration, the state has committed up to $300 million to expand affordable housing over the next eight years.

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