The State Bond Commission granted final approval to spend $291 million for Jackson Laboratory to construct a new building and create 300 new bioscience jobs on the University of Connecticut Health Center campus in Farmington.
The commission voted 8 to 2 as Democrats voted in favor of the proposal and Republicans were against. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who chairs the commission and sets the agenda, said that Jackson Lab initiative is important for Connecticut to become a leader in the growing fields of bioscience and genomic medicine.
But Republicans blasted the idea as a highly expensive gamble that might not pay off in the long run.
Sen. Andrew Roraback, a Republican who represents 15 small towns in Litchfield County, said the state-backed companies "ought to create a lot more jobs for a lot less money'' when it is spending tax dollars.
"It's more than $3 million per scientist,'' Roraback said, adding, "We are at risk for this becoming a giveaway.''
But Malloy said he is also interested in the long-term spin-off jobs and fostering bioscience through the initiative.
"This is not about the 300 jobs - just as building a university is not about the number of people employed there,'' Malloy said during the commission meeting. "It's about the future.''
Malloy cited the decision by Pfizer to move more than 400 jobs out of southeastern Connecticut and head to Cambridge, Massachusetts - the homes of Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He described it as "a very clear warning shot that was fired across our bow'' regarding the moves that Connecticut needed to make in order to attract future jobs.
Malloy said that Connecticut wants to be competitive with "New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, the other states, and the other nations of the world.''
In response to Roraback saying that he was doing "basic math,'' Malloy said, "You can do basic math as well as anyone else can do basic math, but it misses the point.''
Besides Malloy, those in favor on the 10-member commission included Treasurer Denise Nappier, Comptroller Kevin Lembo, state budget chief Ben Barnes, commissioner Donald DeFronzo, Sen. Eileen Daily, and others. Other than Malloy, none of the commission members spoke in detail about the proposal.
The two Republican members of the commission - Roraback and state Rep. Sean Williams of Watertown - voted no.
Cutting regulations, taxes, and energy costs Williams said, are all better ways for government to try to create jobs than in heavily subsidizing an operation like Jackson Lab.
"Government doesn't create jobs, but small businesses do,'' Williams said. "I want very badly for this project to be successful. I live in this state. I pay taxes in this state, as do all of us. I really want this to work. I just can't justify a 'yes' vote on this today for that reason.''
Williams told reporters later that he was concerned because the state is pouring a huge amount of money into a private, non-profit organization in a move that he said is "a gamble'' for the state.
“Once again, the taxpayers are becoming the bank or the financing entity for an organization that the government decided was the best organization,’’ Williams said. “This is how we got in trouble with Solyndra. I’m not saying Jackson Labs is going to be Solyndra or Enron, but it might be. How do we know? They could leave and disappear and go by the wayside tomorrow. There’s no guarantees of anything here.’’
The $291 million, which is paid by the state over 10 years, includes $145 million for construction in a forgivable, 1 percent loan. It also includes $47 million in a forgivable loan for furniture and equipment at the state-of-the-art laboratory, as well as $99 million in an operating grant to underwrite the research in the laboratories at Jackson Lab in Farmington.
Roraback said he was concerned about the additional bonding by the state "particularly in light of the action that Moody'stook last week'' in downgrading the state's credit rating.
"There was no public hearing held in connection with this proposal,'' Roraback said, adding that he asked detailed questions because the public comments had been limited in the past.
Among the other items on Monday's agenda were:
$255 million to issue and sell general obligation bonds
$57 million for the Department of Transportation to pave 200 miles of roadway.
$10 million to subsidize the employment of 1,100 people through a jobs and training program established in October.
$5.24 million toward hot water piping and air conditioning improvements at Manson Youth Institute in Cheshire.
$5 million to increase the amount of crop land in the state.
$2.9 million for state park improvements, provided $2.5 million goes toward Silver Sands State Park in Milford.
$2.2 million for the Department of Administrative Services to buy technology equipment.
$1 million for the Department of Administrative Services to design facade restorations at 79 Elm St. and 18-20 Trinity St. in Hartford.
$1 million for the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to improve state parks and other recreational facilities.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun