HARTFORD — Progressive measures to help working and low-income families are at the forefront of both Democratic gubernatorial candidates’ platforms, according to recent announcements from both campaigns.
New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. revealed on Friday a proposal to stimulate Connecticut job growth by providing scholarships and housing subsidies for math and science students, removing some taxes on manufacturing, and assembling a team of experts to avert factory closings and assist recently laid-off workers. DeStefano’s announcement comes two weeks after challenger and Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy proposed a universal health insurance plan for children that would be administered by the state’s HUSKY program, which currently provides insurance to children of low and middle-income families.
But both candidates’ plans have been criticized for their projected costs, and some have questioned whether the programs could be adequately funded in leaner years, when the state may not have a budget surplus as it now does.
Although Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s campaign has not yet released any specific policy proposals, the governor’s spokesman said her agenda for this year prioritizes job creation and economic growth.
Malloy and DeStefano will compete in an Aug. 8 Democratic primary. The winner will challenge Rell in the November general election.
DeStefano’s proposal uses a projected $500 million state budget surplus to encourage growth in the biotechnology and manufacturing sectors. By eliminating a municipal property tax on manufacturing equipment, DeStefano said, his proposal would stimulate investment from firms.
Connecticut job loss has been a high-profile issue recently, following the closure of New Haven’s Winchester Arms factory and a Stop & Shop distribution center in North Haven. The state ranks 43rd in job growth nationwide, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics.
DeStefano said his plan would bolster the biotechnology sector, which he described as high-paying and rapidly expanding, by providing 3,500 scholarships of $10,000 each to students pursuing higher education degrees in science and engineering and who plan to live in Connecticut for four years. DeStefano’s plan would also provide down payments of $20,000 to first-time homebuyers employed in science and engineering fields — a proposal along the lines of Yale’s Homebuyer program, which helps to subsidize University faculty and staff purchases of local housing.
“Every week, jobs are leaving the state,” DeStefano said. “There’s no better investment we can make than in our own workforce.”
Local manufacturers supported DeStefano’s proposal, saying the mayor understands the difficulty of recruiting talented labor and operating a business in Connecticut.
“It’s really counter-intuitive [to] tax things to make it less desirable to get modern equipment and the innovations that come with it,” said Jerry Clupper, executive director of the New Haven Manufacturers Association.
But some questioned the cost of DeStefano’s proposal, which would use $375 million of a $500 million one-time state budget surplus.
“Where will the money come from in future years, particularly with the budget experts predicting that the next couple of years will not be surplus but deficit years?” asked Rich Harris, spokesman for Rell’s re-election campaign.
Harris said DeStefano’s proposal does not adequately account for municipal funding that would be lost with the removal of the tax on manufacturing equipment. DeStefano has proposed replacing the tax revenue with Payment in Lieu of Taxes funds from the state, which are currently used to reimburse municipalities for the presence of non-profit organizations such as Yale, which do not pay property taxes.
Malloy’s campaign also criticized DeStefano’s proposal for not addressing the need to reform the state’s economic development agencies, which Malloy said inefficiently spend millions of tax dollars a year.
Malloy’s first policy proposal also draws upon his experiences as an urban mayor, as he seeks to expand Stamford’s “Every Child Matters” program, which, through school and day-care outreach efforts, has enrolled more than 2,000 children in Connecticut’s HUSKY program.
Malloy said expanding HUSKY to cover all Connecticut children would cost approximately $35 million. Currently, more than 70,000 children in the state are uninsured, though many of them qualify for benefits under HUSKY, according to research from the advocacy group Connecticut Voices for Children.
Mary Alice Lee, senior policy fellow at Connecticut Voices, praised Malloy’s plan for funding outreach efforts and for including middle-income families who often cannot qualify for HUSKY.
“When health [providers] work together … to provide application assistance to the families, that will result in children getting into the program and staying in the program,” Lee said. “To the extent that he is touting the coordination of these efforts, I think it’s great.”
But Harris, Rell’s spokesman, questioned the reliability of Malloy’s funding projections, since his projected total of $35 million would account for approximately $500 per child. Lee said that in 2001, the most recent year for which data is available, Medicaid spent roughly $1,200 on health care per child.
A statement from the Malloy campaign said the low cost of the program was due to a progressive cost-sharing structure.
DeStefano criticized Malloy’s plan for focusing only on children, and said his own campaign will soon release a plan to provide affordable insurance to state residents of all ages.
Rell is scheduled to announce the details of her agenda for the 2006 legislative session in her “State of the State” address Wednesday.