By KEITH M. PHANEUF
Although some top Connecticut officials have balked at creating a publicly searchable database to track corporate welfare, its chief advocate, the state comptroller, is hoping an example from across the state line will change their minds.
Rhode Island’s Division of Taxation released a late summer report showing that 87 percent of all funds awarded through the state’s six major tax incentive programs — $15.6 million — went to one company, CVS Corp., which is headquartered in Woonsocket.
Connecticut’s comptroller, Kevin P. Lembo, was careful neither to assess the merits of Rhode Island’s corporate assistance programs, nor to assert that a parallel situation likely exists in his state. But he did say in a recent interview that he continues to think that Connecticut taxpayers would like access to this type of information, just as those in Rhode Island likely followed the CVS reports with great interest.
“I really think decision-making can only be more sound when you have this type of disclosure,” said Lembo, a Democrat whose duties in overseeing accounting and administering various benefits and appropriations make him the state’s chief fiscal guardian.
Granting the public easy access to state-sponsored business aid, in the long run, “can only raise the public’s comfort level with any type of economic development strategy,” Lembo added.
Rhode Island has been tracking and reporting state aid to businesses since 2008.
The Connecticut comptroller proposed a bill during the 2013 General Assembly session that would have required Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration to establish a database for tax credit and other economic assistance programs.
It would have allowed the public to review the types of assistance provided, and how well companies met performance standards linked to them, such as the number of jobs they created.
The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives unanimously adopted the bill, but the Senate, also controlled by Democrats, never took it up.
Senate Democratic leaders described the Malloy administration as “OK” and “neutral” about the bill.
Two top Malloy officials — budget chief Benjamin Barnes and Revenue Services Commissioner Kevin Sullivan — raised concerns about the measure during a committee hearing, while Economic Development Commissioner Catherine Smith opposed it outright.
“The requirement to disclose the economic benefits derived from each project would create a competitive disadvantage for the state in its negotiations with existing companies within Connecticut and with any new companies that may consider relocating to the state,” Smith told the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee.
Barnes testified that while “many of the ideas … are laudable, there would be significant financial costs and staff time commitments” in creating the database and related reports.
(The Malloy administration’s First Five initiave offers incentives like tax credits, no-interest loans and job training grants to companies that create jobs. Major companies like Deloitte, Cigna, NBC, ESPN, Bridgewater Associates, Charter Communications and Alexion Pharmaceuticals have joined the program. Some have criticized Malloy for lavishing money on existing Connecticut businesses that would have expanded here anyway, without such incentives.)
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