By STEPHEN KALIN Associated Press
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Governor Dannel P. Malloy’s $1.5 billion proposal to strengthen the sciences and boost enrollment at Connecticut’s flagship university has passed a key legislative hurdle.
The General Assembly’s Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee voted 43-to-7 on Tuesday to forward the bill for further consideration, despite some lawmakers’ concerns about cost.
The legislation would build new labs and refurbish others, upgrade information technology and renovate and build housing and parking at UConn. The effort is expected to attract millions of dollars in research grants and boost high-wage jobs in science and technology.
“If we want to be the kind of innovative and inventive and creative state that we’ve been in the past,” said Sen. Gary Lebeau, D-East Hartford, “this is the kind of investment _ and that is the key word _ this is the kind of investment that we need to make going forward.”
Malloy proposed the legislation in January along with a new $200 million fund at the UConn Health Center intended to attract bioscience companies and jobs to the state. The bioscience funding bill was also approved on Tuesday in a 33-to-17 vote.
Malloy commended the committee on Tuesday for moving both bills forward and said via Twitter that the initiatives would strengthen economic development and job creation.
Legislators approved the proposals despite concerns about their cost. The infrastructure bill calls for $1.54 billion in bonding and $137 million in state money, while the bioscience fund would be financed by additional bonding.
Rep. John Piscopo, R-Thomaston, said the state has already committed hundreds of millions of dollars to improving UConn. He said this latest proposal represents “just too much borrowing.”“This isn’t 1994 University of Connecticut when the library was falling apart and `the jungle’ was a jungle,” he said, referring to an infamous dormitory complex. “This isn’t UConn in dire straits.”
Sen. Steve Cassano, D-Manchester, defended the cost of the bill.
“If you don’t compete, you don’t succeed,” he said. “If you want top faculty, you have to pay for it. You have to invest in the infrastructure to get people to attend it.”
The committee also discussed the impact of the planned expansion on existing water, transport and housing infrastructure.
Sen. Kevin Witkos, D-Canton, and Rep. Susan Johnson, D-Windham, expressed concerns about how the proposed expansion would affect water supplies at UConn and throughout the state. The university has already begun to review options to produce 2 million gallons of water a day to keep up with its growth.
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