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Hartford — A policy institute founded by Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley in 2011 announced initiatives to improve urban areas on Friday, including tax breaks for companies that move to cities, more advanced technology for city police and loans to homeowners for repairs.
Foley said the Connecticut Policy Institute was "absolutely" an independent organization from his campaign, but that he would be coming out with an urban agenda before the Republican convention on May 17.
In 2010, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy outpolled Foley in New Haven, Bridgeport and Hartford in a narrow victory.
"I didn't spend much time in the cities last time, and we didn't do as well as certainly Jodi Rell had done in previous races," Foley said. "I am a problem solver. I am someone who likes to change people's lives. I think in our cities a lot of people don't get a fair shake."
To win gubernatorial elections, Democrats pile up margins in the cities, said Ronald Schurin, associate professor for the political science department at the University of Connecticut. Republicans can do well by running strong in the suburbs, rural areas and by cutting into Democrats' margins in the cities, he said.
"In a close race, cities can take credit for putting Malloy over the top as the first Democratic governor elected since 1986," Schurin said.
Scott L. McLean, a political science professor at Quinnipiac University, said that an urban policy agenda that was broad and included issues such as taxes, infrastructure and the environment could sway suburban voters who live near the major cities to vote Republican.
But "Foley is not likely to get any huge Democratic vote or Republican vote in the cities," McLean said. Voters in the suburbs favor Republicans and the suburbs are where "there are people who are willing to vote for an alternative to Malloy right now," he said.
The suburbs, which include towns near major cities such as West Hartford and West Haven, are key to Foley because residents there are more likely to vote, especially during a nonpresidential election, McLean said.
At Friday's press conference, Benjamin Zimmer, executive director of the institute, said its focus is to get more value out of government spending. Zimmer said the institute would like to see an expansion of the state's Enterprise Zone Program.
"Connecticut has an Enterprise Zone Program that provides tax breaks to companies locating in urban areas, but the program provides very bizarre and unnecessarily restrictive eligibility requirements that preclude them from being as effective as they could be," Zimmer said.
There are also many different job training programs run by the state, municipalities and nonprofits, but there is no way to identify which programs are working, he said. The institute would like the Department of Economic and Community Development to create a customized workforce training program for employers that are willing to relocate to cities, he said.
To reduce crime, the institute recommended investing in new technologies such as mobile facial recognition, fingerprinting and DNA devices for urban police departments. Zimmer said Connecticut shouldn't be investing in so many housing projects in cities and distressed neighborhoods because adding new units drives down the housing prices and encourages private investors to flee, he said.
Instead, the state should be giving loans to homeowners for repairs and funds for keeping up sidewalks and neighborhood infrastructure, Zimmer said.
Foley said that in terms of his campaign and developing an urban policy agenda, the policy institute provides a good framework.
"We will be picking and choosing from these after we get feedback from the communities," he said.
After the press conference, Connecticut Democratic Party spokesman James Hallinan said in a press release that Malloy has a strong record when it comes to cities. Malloy's Small Business Express program has helped create and retain thousands of jobs and brownfield cleanup investments have helped remove blight from cities, Hallinan said. Malloy has also increased education spending by hundreds of millions of dollars and focused on the lowest performing schools, he said.