Senate GOP job plan for cities
For Republicans to challenge Democratic Party supremacy in this state they have to make some inroads into the dominance the Democrats enjoy in most of Connecticut’s urban centers. Day editorials noted that in the lead up to the 2014 gubernatorial election.
In 2010, with an open seat for governor, Republican Tom Foley narrowly lost to Democrat Dannel P. Malloy. Malloy crushed Foley in most of the cities, particularly New Haven, Hartford and Bridgeport. When Foley faced Malloy in a rematch in 2014, it was apparent he had to do better in the cities. For that to happen, Foley had to have a plan for attacking the poverty and economic malaise found in those urban centers.
Unfortunately for Republicans, Foley botched the opportunity. In late September, with the election only a few weeks away, he finally released his urban agenda. To say it was half-hearted would be generous; more like no hearted. Democrats pounced, noting the Foley campaign had cut and pasted entire sections from other sources, without attribution.
It was cookie-cutter and not a serious attempt to engage urban voters. Foley then failed a leadership test by sidestepping responsibility for the debacle, blaming “sloppy staff work.” It was among the low points in a poorly run campaign.
Last week, when the Editorial Board sat down with Republican state Sens. Art Linares of Westbrook and Paul Formica of East Lyme, along with Minority Leader Sen. Len Fasano of North Haven, the senators dropped off the draft version of the “2016 Agenda to Enrich the Lives of Urban Residents and Employers,” being prepared by Senate Republicans.
Reminded of Foley’s urban agenda, and whether we could expect to find similarities, Fasano shook his head with a pained look.
“I never even read his plan … if there is anything the same in there; it’s only by accident,” he said.
In fact, this is a far more serious attempt to engage a debate over urban policy, one that I anticipate Republicans will campaign on as they try to make a run at capturing the Senate in November.
In making the case that the Democrats are failing, Senate Republicans point to an unemployment rate of 26 percent for Hartford adults ages 20-24 and note that 33.6 percent of Hartford residents, 26.5 percent of New Haven residents, and 23.3 percent of Bridgeport residents live in poverty — defined as below a $24,450 annual income for a family of four.
Recognizing the best way to get a better job is to have a job; the plan seeks to encourage the poor to enter the job market — even for low-paying positions — by allowing individuals for a period of time to retain much of their public assistance after starting work. The goal, said the senators, is to remove disincentives to securing a job.
The GOP Senate plan envisions directing some higher-education money to subsidize low-income parents seeking college degrees. It would take Malloy’s “Second Chance” program a step further by providing automatic erasure of non-violent misdemeanor records after five years of good behavior, rather than the current practice of requiring individuals to apply for a pardon. For many inner city men, criminal records are a major impediment to employment.
The agenda seeks to expedite the process of gaining regulatory approval to redevelop old urban industrial properties — brownfields — into new uses. Tax incentive packages to encourage redevelopment would be available only to companies that agree to hire 30 percent of their total workforce from the local community. Urban developers would submit to high schools and community technical colleges a list of their employment needs and job requirements, enabling training of students for the anticipated jobs.
“Republicans are accused of protecting the rich and big business … what we are really protecting is the American Dream that everyone has opportunities to succeed,” said Fasano. “But as Republicans, we’ve just done a horrible job going to our cities and saying, ‘If the opportunities do not exist, we need to bring the opportunity.’”
Absent from the plan is a price tag. The senators said the Office of Fiscal Analysis is calculating that. Investment in the welfare state has not addressed poverty, said Linares. Investing in programs to move more urban youth into the workplace makes sense and should produce long-term savings, he said.
Democrats have grown too comfortable with their political control of the state’s urban centers. They and the cities could benefit from being pushed with new ideas from the loyal opposition.
Paul Choiniere is the editorial page editor.
DRAFT 2016 Agenda to Enrich the Lives of Urban Residents and Employers (PDF)