Gubernatorial candidate John DeStefano of New Haven has re-entered the war of ideas in a big way, unveiling a major job growth package today at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford. DeStefano's announcement comes just a week after rival Dan Malloy introduced a major health insurance intitative.
DeStefano's plan revolves around the state surplus. Most lawmakers want to quietly invest the money, use it to pay down state debt, stow it away in the rainy day fund, or use it to fund existing obligations like the state teacher's retirement fund. DeStefano disagrees, and wants to use $375 million of the $500 million projected surplus to fund an economic development program. DeStefano claimed that the state needed to "...act quickly and decisively to solve the problems that result in workforce shortages that make it impossible for us to grow our economy," (DeStefano for CT press release, 2/3/06).
The full plan is here: DeStefano Outlines First Phase of Jobs Plan: Surplus Must be Used to Spur Economy
Okay, let's take a look. The four major initiatives are:
- College Scholars Program:$180 million for In Demand Scholars
- Housing Trust Fund for In-Demand Careers
- Elimination of the property tax on manufacturing equipment
- Economic SWAT Teams
There is a strong focus here on "in-demand" careers, namely bioscience, computer science, engineering, physical science and nursing (librarians, alas, are not in demand). The first two points of the plan deal with growing these industries by first helping to fund students who are in these programs and second by providing incentives for these young professionals to stay in Connecticut once they are educated. It's unclear at this time what, exactly, the money in the first point will actually be going towards. Is it scholarship money? Are we funding programs at state universities? Can out-of-state residents in CT schools take advantage of it? What about the reverse?
DeStefano's home buying program as an incentive for young professionals in these "in-demand" fields to live in Connecticut, making the state more attractive for firms who want to relocate here. 20K seems like a decent amount for a down payment, but when one considers the price of housing in, say, Simsbury or Tolland, it isn't that much. Still, it's an incentive.
The elimination of property tax on manufacturing equipment is a common-sense plan that's already in the works, and will hopefully pass in the upcoming session.
Lastly, the most interesting idea here is the "economic SWAT teams," which would deploy to plant closings and sites of other layoffs to help people find new jobs right away, as well as engaging in retraining. I'm very curious to see just how such a program would work.
The point of contention here may be the source of the money: the surplus. The trend so far has been not to spend the money on new programs, but to use it for either existing debts/obligations or to store it away for future emergencies. DeStefano's plan won't use all of the surplus, but will take a big enough chunk out that fiscal conservatives will start to break out in hives.
Does a slumping economy require drastic fiscal action? DeStefano says yes.
DeStefano for Connecticut press release: "DeStefano Outlines First Phase of Jobs Plan: Surplus Must be Used to Spur Economy." 3 February, 2006.