Christine Stuart photo

Senate Republicans, who hail from mostly suburban and rural communities, said they have a plan to foster economic growth and development in Connecticut’s urban areas.

“We firmly believe that the strength of our state depends upon the strength of our cities,” Senate Republican leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said Thursday at a press conference.

Fasano said the agenda they support includes small business loan programs and even some of Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s criminal justice reforms.

“By supporting the unique needs of small businesses and start-ups, creating an environment that fosters growth, ensuring that people stay informed of the opportunities that do exist, and reforming our justice system we hope to give all people in urban communities the tools they need to succeed,” the 13-page plan reads.

The Republican plan was panned by Sens. Ed Gomes, D-Bridgeport, and Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, as disingenuous.

“Let’s not forget that these are the same legislative Republicans who opposed an increase in the minimum and fought against the creation of an Earned Income Tax Credit for working people while at the same time proposing the elimination of taxes on luxury goods like yachts and Rolex watches,” Gomes said. “… It’s nice that the Republicans have finally noticed that there are cities in Connecticut.”

Fasano refused to comment on the statement.

“We might not agree on every aspect of everything, but there’s certainly enough common ground to have conversations,” Fasano said.

He said it’s “disingenuous” to suggest that if you don’t agree on everything you can’t have common ground.

“We have common ground on Second Chance. We have common ground on programs that can loan money and build cities,” Fasano said.

Some members of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus who did attend the press conference Thursday said they want to learn more about the Republican agenda.

Rep. Douglas McCrory, D-Hartford, said Avery Gaddis, who was hired by Fasano last year to help do urban outreach, shared the agenda with him before the press conference.

“I’d like to learn more about the Center for Employment Opportunities program,” McCrory said.

The CEO re-entry program, which would be modeled after the one in New York, would replace the I-BEST program that’s part of Malloy’s Second Chance society proposal. The I-BEST program, according to Republicans, was never meant to be a re-entry program. They said it was designed as a “bridge” program aimed at increasing the educational level of older students with GED’s.

They suggested the New York re-entry program would be a better fit for what the governor is trying to accomplish.

While they disagree with some of the proposals, Republicans said they agree with Malloy’s proposal to reclassify drug offenses and send few offenders to jail, eliminate mandatory minimums for non-violent drug possession, parole reform, streamlining the pardons process and assisting individuals re-entering society.

In addition to the criminal justice proposals, Republicans said they want to take $3 million to $5 million from the Small Business Express Program, which gives out small loans to businesses, to focus on start-ups in urban areas.

The Small Business Express Program was created as part of the 2011 bipartisan jobs bill.

Christine Stuart photo

Sen. Scott Frantz, R-Greenwich, said jobs in urban areas are often created by entrepreneurs.

“Starting the same old corner grocery store is okay, but it’s probably not going to have a great chance of succeeding,” Frantz said.

The other program the Republicans pitched Thursday would create a two- or three-year pilot program to provide investors and developers a tax credit for converting existing vacant buildings. The tax credits would vary depending on the project. Republicans also want to revive the Job Expansion Tax Credit program, which expired in January 2014. The program allows Connecticut businesses to receive tax credits of $500 per month for each new full-time job created.

Former Sen. Toni Harp, who is now mayor of New Haven, welcomed her former Republican colleagues to the conversation about improving public safety, education, and job growth.

“I hope it means they now acknowledge that healthy cities support regional economies and spur widespread growth, and I hope their votes now change on city-supportive program and funding initiatives so their actions follow this new script,” Harp said.