When Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced Tuesday a proposal to invest $864 million the UConn Health Center in Farmington, he appealed to the legislature to quickly approve the measure. It was that sense of urgency that troubled the Finance Committee Thursday as they passed it.
The plan, aimed at the health center and John Dempsey Hospital in Farmington, includes 3,000 construction jobs and is expected to bring in an additional $4.6 billion in personal income by 2037 with the creation of 16,400 jobs.
However, a 21-26 vote on an early motion by Sen. Andrew Roraback, R-Goshen, to table the measure until the committee had time to digest the material illustrates the group’s apprehension.
Roraback said he had called hospitals in his district to find out how the proposal could impact them and was told they hadn’t even seen it yet. That didn’t surprise him because he hadn’t seen it yet, he said.
“I certainly can’t feel that I can cast an informed and responsible vote on a huge undertaking unless and until the people I represent upon who this proposal could have a large and serious impact, either positively or negatively. I need their input to color my decision,” he said.
That sentiment was repeated by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle during the hour and a half debate. Many on the committee said they could not understand the rush to push the measure through the committee when there is still three weeks left in the session and Malloy had already authorized a special session to pass the bill, if it were necessary.
Most of those trying to buy time to understand and get feedback on the measure said they were excited about the project and were inclined to support it.
Sen. Gary LeBeau, D-East Hartford, was one of several lawmakers proposing that the measure get a joint public hearing through the Finance, Commerce and Public Health. LeBeau said the proposal was likely exactly what the state needs but said passing it along without at the hearing risks missed opportunities.
Rep. John Piscopo, R-Thomaston, said he was concerned that the committee was voting on a measure, drafted by the governor’s office, that the Office of Fiscal Analysis hadn’t even had a chance to look at yet.
“This committee doesn’t vote on a bill concerning an animal control officer without an OFA report,” he said.
Some members said that given the size and importance of the proposal they would be willing to come in for a special session if it meant they had time to vet the measure.
Rep. Prasad Srinivasan, R-Glastonbury, said he would take the time, “much as I don’t want a special session. I do want to get back to my medical practice sometime this year.” The remark brought chuckles from the committee.
Rep. Sean Williams, R-Watertown, said he was excited by the possibilities of the idea but was shocked by the rushed process. The Finance Committee should be almost the last step in the process and the bill hadn’t even gotten a proper hearing, he said.
He tried to make a motion that the committee have a public hearing on the matter, but Sen. Eileen Daily said the motion was out of order.
“I hope that one day in the future, perhaps before the end of the session, perhaps in the next session, I’m able to support this,” he said. “But from a process stand point this is deplorable.”
Throughout the debate the committee’s chairwomen said they sympathized with the members’ frustrations. Daily noted that if she hadn’t had the summary brought in the committee would have been discussing a nine-line bill that was described as “thin air.” Roraback said that in that sense “no good deed goes unpunished,” since an empty bill probably would have passed much easier.
Rep. Patricia Widlitz, D-Guilford, encouraged members to take a “leap of faith” and support the bill. It is only the first step in the process, she said, not a final certification.
To the members asking what the hurry was, Sen. Edward Meyer, D-Guilford, said it 20 years of economic stagnation and a 9.1 percent unemployment rate in Connecticut.
“A governor has proposed for the first time in years a major economic development program and it’s in one of the great frontiers of our country, bioscience and biomedical. You know, to be talking about the process here right now… this the beginning of the process,” he said.
The bill will now return to the Senate.