FARMINGTON – Gov. Dannel P. Malloy called for an additional $200 million in bond funds for bioscience Thursday as officials celebrated the official groundbreaking for the Jackson Lab laboratory on the UConn Health Center campus.
The money would be spent over 10 years, including $10 million in each of the first two years and $15 million in each of the next two years. After that, the state would borrow $25 million annually for the following six years to fund bioscience projects.
Malloy has repeatedly touted bioscience as a future source of jobs in Connecticut, which has been plagued in recent years by a sluggish economy.
The funding requires approval by the Democratic-controlled state legislature, but that seems assured because the two most powerful leaders in the legislature – Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams and House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey – were sitting on the small stage at Thursday’s announcement with Malloy.
Malloy and other Democrats have highlighted Jackson Labs as a job creator for the past 18 months, while some Republicans have ripped the Jackson proposal as an unaffordable, high-priced giveaway to a nonprofit company that will not pay any corporate taxes to the state nor real estate taxes to Farmington.
“This is an exciting day for Connecticut, for the University of Connecticut, and for Jackson Laboratories,” Malloy told a large crowd Thursday under a tent at the Jackson Lab site on the 17-acre health center campus.
Malloy noted that to the crowd that officials have already celebrated at the health center campus.
“It’s great to be here actually to have the formal groundbreaking, although we do celebrate other milestones,” Malloy said. “Building parking lots on the campus was one. Tearing down a building was another. But nothing quite like breaking ground to make sure that everyone understands that we are moving forward.”
He added, “In fact, I’ve been promised that in the fall of 2014 – which may be a particularly important time for me – there may be a ribbon-cutting as well.”
Despite some rumors to the contrary, Malloy is widely expected by some insiders to be running for his second term as governor in the fall of 2014. His remarks brought a large round of applause from the crowd of Democratic legislators, UConn officials and supporters, and Jackson Lab employees.
“Why is bioscience so critical to Connecticut’s future?” Malloy asked the crowd. “On a worldwide basis, it is growing rapidly. But Connecticut has not participated to the extent that we should have been. After all, we were an early leader in bioscience. But Connecticut also has this habit of ignoring its strengths and ignoring its weaknesses at the same time. … We lost our momentum in bioscience in particular. … We need to do substantially more in the coming years if we are going to maximize the potential of the investments that we celebrate today.”
The $200 million for bioscience would be overseen by Connecticut Innovations, a quasi-public agency that specializes in economic development and is headed by executive director Claire Leonardi.
Regarding Jackson Lab, Malloy said, “They are the springboard in so many ways to what we anticipate what the next 10, 20 and 30 years will be about. … This is an important day in the history of the state of Connecticut.”
Democrats have touted Malloy’s controversial plan to recruit the Maine-based company to Farmington with a $291 million offer to construct a new building and create 300 direct jobs over the next 10 years. The state Senate passed the measure in October 2011 on a strict party line vote with all 14 Republicans against. The House of Representatives approved the measure on a mostly party line vote with 8 Republicans, including the entire Greenwich delegation, in favor.
With manufacturing and other industries in decline in the Northeast, Democrats said that Connecticut needs to invest in the fast-growing bioscience industry in order to kick-start the economy to improve the state’s 8.9 percent unemployment rate. Some state officials have projected that the venture will be so successful that it will eventually create more than 6,600 jobs over the next 20 years, including other bio-science companies and restaurant, real estate, and retail jobs that are needed to service those workers.
Sen. Theresa Gerratana, a New Britain Democrat, said during the Senate debate in 2011 that Jackson promises to make future advances in the field of personalized medicine to help in the treatments of Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and Down Syndrome, among others. The scientists in Farmington would study the interaction of genes in an attempt to make medical breakthroughs.
But Republicans said that the state was spending far too much money at $291 million, plus another $120 million in interest on the bonds, that includes a free building for Jackson. They said Connecticut needs to be cautious about spending more tax money in a state that recently had the largest tax increase in its history and has the highest per capita debt in the nation. They added that the deal was too lopsided to spend nearly $300 million for 300 direct jobs. Without architectural drawings at the time, they said the state could not know the cost of the building, even though it has been set at $144 million for the structure and $47.3 million for scientific and technological equipment. The plan is designed to provide a jolt to Connecticut’s economy, which has not created any net new jobs since the creation of the state income tax 20 years ago.
Sen. John Kissel, an Enfield Republican, said, “Waiting 10 years for 300 jobs is preposterous.”