Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Another Pig, Another Poke

Duane Billington, a retired engineering technician and civic activist from Naples, “fought for 18 months against Jackson Laboratory's plan to expand in Florida,” according to a story in the Hartford Courant.”

Ultimately Mr. Billington was successful. Jackson Laboratory pulled up their negotiating stakes in Florida.

Governor Dannel Malloy’s chief of staff, Roy Occhiogrosso, read about the failed attempt to pitch the deal to Florida in a newspaper, evidentially shared the information with his boss, and a contingent from Connecticut was sent to Bar Harbor Maine to negotiate a deal with Jackson Laboratory administrators. The Courant story does not mention the names of members of the Connecticut contingent sent to negotiate with Jackson. The deal apparently was consummated and a letter of intent was signed between the parties.

When two members of the General Assembly, Senator Len Suzio and Senate Republican leader Leonard Fasano, asked to see the memorandum of understanding between the state and Jackson, they were sternly rebuffed. Malloy officials asserted the documents contained trade secrets that could not be disclosed to members of the General Assembly who would be asked to provide funding for the deal. The same claim was made in Florida, an overreach that some say soured the state on the deal.

Suzio has scoffed at the transparent dodge.

“I've got a business guy here who fell off his chair laughing,'' Suzio said of a colleague's reaction about trade secrets. “Why would there be any confidential information in a letter of intent? We're not asking for the disclosure of secret formulas. It's laughable.''

Many of Suzio’s questions were bridges too far; Mr. Malloy’s aggressive administration very early acquired the habit of pushing things through with minor participation on the part of the people’s representatives. Republicans in the General Assembly were simply pushed out of the way during budget negotiations.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that the Malloy administration has to some extent been trying to sell the Democratic dominated General Assembly a pig in a poke. The Malloy-Jackson deal, according to the Courant story, “is scheduled to come to a vote Wednesday in the House of Representatives and the Senate. Malloy is calling for the state to borrow $291 million to construct a new building on 17 acres of state-owned land at the University of Connecticut Health Center campus in Farmington and provide $99 million in research money for Jackson. The nonprofit institute is pledging to create 300 jobs within 10 years and 600 jobs within 20 years, making it slightly larger than the Florida plan in jobs and state subsidies.”

Mr. Billington certainly is not shy of reporters.

"They couldn't find a home here in Collier County or Sarasota because they don't have a product to deliver,'' Mr. Billington told a reporter. “Their business is to produce genetically altered mice for other scientists to study and use in experiments. This thing they're going into is a totally new deal for them. They have no expertise. It's an exercise in venture capitalism. It could work, and it might not.''

Jackson Laboratory has had success in genetically altering mice sold to prospective buyers in other research facilities. The Connecticut operation would break new and untested ground for Jackson, which now is seeking to move into an entirely different field, that of genomic medicine, the study of genes and genetic interactions that, according to a 26-page brochure that was distributed to Connecticut legislators, are "essential to creating new medicines and treatments for some of humankind's worst diseases and conditions.''

Mr. Billington told the Courant reporter, “We're glad to be rid of them. I feel bad for the state of Connecticut if you all have politicians who are swallowing the Jackson line hook, line and sinker.”

This is the second time the Malloy administration has asked the Democratic dominated General Assembly to swallow an unpalatable deal. Asked to vote on a budget the details of which had not been finalized in negotiations between Malloy administration officials and SEBAC, a union coalition authorized to negotiate contracts, Democratic leaders in the General Assembly persuaded their caucus to vote in favor of an unfinished budget. The leaders of the Democratic caucus, President of the Senate Don Williams and Speaker of the House Chris Donovan, apparently like the taste of hooks and lines and sinkers.

Mr. Donovan, SEBAC’s best friend in the legislature, is running for the U .S. Congress in Connecticut’s 5th District.

Since the Malloy administration enjoys an insuperable majority in the General Assembly, it does not need Republican votes to pass measures the details of which have not been adequately ventilated in public. Calls on the part of Republicans to put off the vote Wednesday until the pig in the poke – minus the trade secrets, which always may be redacted in publically disclosed documents – has been put on public view and debated fully by the General Assembly will no doubt be ignored by the Malloy administration. And the deal will go down on Wednesday, possibly with the concurrence of some Republicans in the General Assembly who have acquired a taste for hooks, lines and sinkers.

All the “buts” will not arrive until much later.

Mike Hyde, Jackson’s Vice President and fund raiser, no longer concerns himself with Mr. Billington's criticisms. "I'm delighted to be in Connecticut,” he has said. “It's a great state. I really don't have any hard feelings about what happened in Florida. This is here. This is now.”

Florida rejected Jackson’s best offer because the state is flat on its back and broke, unlike Connecticut. For now, at least, the state is flush in quickly disappearing funds owing mostly to the largest tax increase in its history imposed upon it by its “shared sacrifice” governor. This is here. This is now.

And the future? Let the future eat cake.


dmoelling said...

Biotech has been the holy grail of State promoters for years. Haven't we seen this with State investments in Stem cell research etc. So here is a startup firm with no prior track record asking for hundreds of millions of state money to build a new building and fund startup costs. Now as a small business man I would suspect that there is suitable lab space available from Pfizer in New London cheap rather than startout with a costly new building.

If I wasn't trusting, I would think this is another gift to unionized construction workers.

Don Pesci said...

It hasn’t been widely reported but Mr. Occhiogrosso, a protégé of Leo Canty, used to be a union organizer for – guess who? – the UConn Health Center. Mr. Canty is still actively involved with the UCHC. I’m not sure what impact this datum will have on your trusting nature.

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