The Senate voted 21-14 Wednesday to give Jackson Laboratories of Maine $291 million in incentives to expand at the University of Connecticut Farmington Health Center campus.
If passed by the House, the bill will commit the state to spending the $291 million over 10 years to help the mammalian genomic nonprofit build a 173,000 square foot research facility. 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.
Lawmakers voted along party lines after a more than three-hour debate that saw Democrats arguing the investment in the lab was the right move at the right time, and Republicans contending the deal to move them to Connecticut was too sweet and the process was too rushed.
While they were all careful to note that having Jackson Labs move to Connecticut will benefit the state, Republicans said the state put too much on the table.
Sen. Len Suzio, R – Meriden, spoke in opposition to the bill for over a half hour. He said the deal did not make sense because it contains no provision to give Connecticut some stake in any profits generated by the company’s innovations. He argued that because much of the investment in the first few years of the project are state dollars, the taxpayers are taking most of the risk without the possibility of any return.
“Heads, they win. Tails, we lose. That’s this bill,” he said.
Suzio also accused Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Catherine Smith of being unprepared to explain the deal to legislators because she was “making it up on the fly.” After he repeated the comments later in his speech, Sen. Eileen Daily, D-Chester, interrupted and asked that he not impugn the character of other officials to make his point.
Later Daily insisted that the deal had been carefully planned and researched and that much of the information Republicans were looking for was not information lawmakers were entitled to. It is the governor’s role to negotiate details with the company, not the legislature’s, she said.
Sen. Leonard Fasano, R-North Haven, said if lawmakers had to approve the proposal they should be entitled to all the information. He said he submitted a freedom of information request for the letter of intent between the state and Jackson Laboratory and was told he could not have it because of an exception in the freedom of information law for documents containing trade secrets of a company.
Fasano said the governor’s office told him many of the specifics, like how the state would get the property back if the lab failed to create the required amount of jobs, had yet to be negotiated.
“I don’t know how I can sit here and say yes to a deal if I don’t know what that deal is,” he said.
Sen. President Donald Williams likened the state’s investment in the lab to investments in roads and infrastructure during the industrial revolution. Communities that improved their roads and bridges during that time experienced the benefits, he said. Towns that did not were left behind, he said.
“When we saw the public investment that was necessary at that time to engage in that economic revolution we as a state moved forward,” he said. “…Today we are in the midst of a new revolution, the revolution of advanced technology.”
Sen. Gary LeBeau, D- East Hartford, said the lab in Farmington will help re-shape Connecticut’s economy.
“Today is about vision. Today is about our vision for the future of Connecticut,” he said.
The work the lab will do in the medical research fields will be increasingly important as the Baby Boomer generation ages and requires new kinds of medicine, he said. The lab will position Connecticut on the cutting edge of personalized medicine, which will allow doctors to tailor medications to patients by analysing their skin cells, he said.
Suzio and others questioned why the project had to cost $291 million. He said the agreement amounts to giving Jackson Laboratories almost $1 million, since the company itself is only required to create 300 jobs. The rest of the 6,660 new jobs the lab is estimated to create over the next 20 years, are expected to be spin-off jobs created by the construction and economic activity the lab will create as well as other bioscience initiatives the lab will draw to the state.
Suzio said the formula used to arrive at that number was flawed because it gives Jackson Labs credit for every bio-technical job that will be created in the state for the next decade.
“Is there anyone in this circle who things Jackson Labs is going to create every single bio science jobs in the state for the next 10 years?” he asked.
Williams said the projection represents only jobs created as a result of the Jackson project for the next 20 years, not every bioscience job in the next 10 years.
Sen. Steve Casano, D- Manchester, said that while it can be difficult to estimate the effect of spin-off jobs, they can have a profound impact on communities. He likened the Jackson deal to an investment the town of Manchester made in the Buckland Hills mall in the 1980s while he was mayor.
That deal offered the mall a seven year tax incentive to build in the town and was met with a lot of opposition, he said. People found the idea of investing in something for spin-off benefits controversial because it is impossible to demonstrate they will actually pan out, he said. But that investment worked out well for the town, he said.
“Drive to Manchester. Drive up Buckland Hills Drive and down the other side, drive to the lower plaza, drive to where the movie theaters are and there are stores and restaurants all along those roads bringing millions of dollars. Spin-offs into Manchester,” he said.
The House of Representatives was expected to take up the bill Wednesday evening.