Christine Stuart file photo
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero (Christine Stuart file photo)

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy wants the state to invest $1.8 billion in the University of Connecticut and expand enrollment by 30 percent over the next 10 years

Malloy made the announcement Thursday at Pratt & Whitney in East Hartford. The investment would require state spending to increase $286 million a year to pay for 259 new faculty members — most of whom would be focused on science and technology.

“By targeting state resources to our flagship university we ensure that our young people have the skills they need to fill the jobs we are so aggressively pursuing,” Malloy said in a press release. “Make no mistake, we are making Connecticut competitive again.”

But with the state facing a $2.2 billion deficit over the next two years, and with the current year budget still hemorrhaging red ink, the investment is going to be a tough sell to the legislature.

House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, a University of Connecticut graduate, isn’t sold on the idea, which includes $1.54 billion in bonding to construct new facilities, build out teaching and research labs, upgrade information technology, and renovate and build additional housing and parking.

He said the deficit may not be as big as it was two years ago, but “I would argue the state is in worse financial shape because the tool box — the things in which we can address that deficit — is depleted.”

Cafero was referring to the deal the governor inked with state labor unions that offers them layoff protection for another two years.

The budget situation gets even worse when you consider the state’s high unemployment rate and the fact that one of the three Wall Street credit rating agencies just frowned upon Connecticut’s decision to purchase a line of credit because it was running low on cash.

“What are we thinking? How are we going to pay for this?” Cafero said Thursday during an interview in the Capitol press room.

Malloy spokesman Andrew Doba said the two biggest drivers of the current deficit is the debt being paid on the 2009 economic recovery notes that the legislature used to close that year’s budget deficit and the Medicaid program for low-income adults.

When Cafero first criticized the project Thursday, he had been under the impression that the entire $1.8 billion investment was going to be funded with borrowing.

“With all due respect to Mr. Cafero, he got his facts wrong on that one,” Doba said.

Doba said when Malloy releases his budget next week it will be balanced. But Cafero is just going to have to wait along with the rest of Connecticut to find out how the administration plans to do it.

Even though the bonding request for the university is about $1.54 billion, Cafero said many of the other proposals Malloy’s administration has leaked in advance of the budget also rely heavily upon borrowing.

Earlier this week, Malloy unveiled plans to borrow to pay for about $10 million in bond funds to transition nursing home patients back to their homes, and another $20 million to help nonprofit community providers make capital improvements.

“I still think he doesn’t have a way to pay for it,” Cafero said of the $286 million Malloy wants to use to help fund 259 new teaching positions at the university.

Cafero expressed concern that most of the proposals Malloy’s administration has leaked about the budget rely heavily on state bonding, which could be viewed as a gimmick in order to avoid spending cuts.

According to the university the investment in curricular expansion and focus on science, technology, engineering, and math is expected to attract $270 million in research dollars and $527 million in business activity. The proposal will create 30,000 construction jobs and support 4,050 permanent jobs over the next 10 years.

“This initiative will create and support the very jobs we need to be an economically vibrant and successful state in the future,” UConn President Susan Herbst said in a press release. “In this era, more than ever, states must rely on their public research universities to be the backbone and the driver of economic success — and that is exactly what this proposal would accomplish.”

The state’s annual appropriation for the university’s campuses and its health center was cut from about $355 million in 2011 to about $318 million in 2012, and then remained flat at $318 million for 2013. The state appropriated $351 million for UConn in 2010, $344 million in 2009, and $331 million in 2008.

UConn’s overall budget increased from $1.835 billion in 2011 to $1.866 billion in 2012 and has remained flat at $1.866 billion for 2013.