The informational hearing Thursday on the Jackson Laboratory deal didn’t win over Republican lawmakers already skeptical of the state’s attempt to bring the research facility to the UConn Health Center.
Republicans have questioned the $291 million the state will spend over 10 years to help the mammalian genomic nonprofit build a 173,000 square foot research facility in Farmington. The lab has promised to create 300 jobs with the promise to create many more both directly and through spin-off businesses in the bioscience field.
“I don’t think there’s any question that everybody’s excited about the possibility of this,“ Finance Committee Co-Chairwoman Patricia Widlitz told Malloy administration officials and a representative of Jackson Laboratory. “So it’s within that context that we’ll be asking you questions.”
But each lawmaker was restricted to one question and not everyone was able to get theirs answered before the end of the two-hour hearing.
Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said he wasn’t in the legislature several years ago when they debated the stadium deal they planned to give to the New England Patriots, but he’s been told the hearing was held in the House chamber and lawmakers were able to ask questions until exhaustion.
“Here we’re told you have less than two hours and you can ask one question. What are they afraid of?” McKinney said. “Other than they don’t want to be questioned publicly about their assumptions because their assumptions are based on very loose assumptions.”
Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Catherine Smith said she’s given Republicans all of the information about how they came up with their assumptions.
The economic modeling the state used estimated that the spin-off activity the project will create will increased the GDP on average each year by $546.5 million from 2011 through 2031. State revenues will increase as a result of the project $45.4 million a year on average over that same period of time.
Jackson Laboratory plans on investing $809 million over the first 20 years of operation.
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said he too is excited about the possibility of Jackson Laboratory coming to the state, but he had questions about how the deal is structured, specifically, when it will take ownership of the building.
Smith told him that they take ownership of it as it’s being built. She said there are provisions in the contract which allow the state to reclaim the building and own all of it if Jackson Laboratory does not follow through on its part of the deal.
Michael Hyde, a vice president and chief fundraiser for the laboratory, told lawmakers Connecticut is the place they want to be.
The Connecticut deal was announced only a few months after a similar deal collapsed in Florida.
“Why are we considering Connecticut and not Florida? Florida is in the grips of an enormous economic collapse,’“ Hyde said. “They simply did not have the financial wherewithal to complete the project as proposed.”
He said the company’s new CEO Edison Liu build a similar research facility in Singapore over the past 10 years.
“Ed brings a global reputation, he’s arguably one of the top genomic scientists in the world,” Hyde said. “We think the presence of that kind of talent bodes well for this operation. You’re going to see first rate science happening in this facility.”
None of the lawmakers even those opposed to the project doubted Hyde’s statement.
“I am personally very excited that you’re here and you’re interested in the state of Connecticut and I want to say I’m wildly excited about the deal, but I can’t because of the price tag,” Sen. Scott Franz, R-Greenwich, said.
The price tag is where many of the Republican lawmakers got stuck, but with a Democrat-controlled legislature Malloy doesn’t need their support in order to push the proposal through.
The project is expected to create about 6,660 new jobs over the next 20 years. That number includes 841 construction jobs, 661 direct jobs, 4,000 spin-off jobs, and 2,000 indirect jobs. Jackson Laboratory would create 300 jobs by the end of the first 10 years in order to qualify for the $291 million in state funding.
“I’m more than willing to have people voice a separate opinion with respect to one aspect of Jackson Labs, as opposed to a bipartisan jobs bill,” Malloy said.
He said he never envisioned combining the jobs bill with the Jackson Labs bill.
For the most part the Jackson Laboratory proposal was praised during a public hearing later in the afternoon.
Ralph Fabiano of Burlington was one of the only members of the public to question the deal and ask lawmakers how it would be different from Solyndra, the company that collapsed even after receiving a federal loan guarantee from the Obama administration.