HARTFORD — In the early morning Wednesday, the House of Representatives approved a bill that delivers $2 billion to the University of Connecticut over the next decade.
The vote on the final day of the legislative session was 120 to 21, with nine members absent.
The bill, which cleared the state Senate last weekend, now goes to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, whose administration helped craft the plan. Malloy hailed the bill's passage, saying it will "position UConn as one of the leading research institutions in the nation."
"It will support a major expansion at UConn, bring thousands of jobs to the state, and attract millions of dollars in research investment and business activity," Malloy said.
The proposal calls for adding 6,500 students in Storrs and the Stamford campus and building new and expanding programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. More than 250 faculty members would be hired, more scholarships would be awarded and the West Hartford branch would move to downtown Hartford.
Supporters acknowledged the bill carries a hefty cost but cast it as an economic development measure that will bring an infusion of jobs to Connecticut.
Rep. Betty Boukus could scarcely contain her enthusiasm as she introduced the bill. "This is an exciting and a very worthwhile program for our flagship university," the Democrat from Plainville said. "It will create thousands of jobs, attract millions in dollars in new businesses and a huge investment for our state."
Boukus said she understands that the state is poised to invest an enormous amount sum. "Yes, it costs money and yes, we are going to pay for it," she said. "But think of the future were going to be providing for all our young people."
Rep. William Tong, a Democrat from Stamford, said residents in southern Fairfield County are eager for the UConn expansion, which would provide housing at the Stamford branch for the first time.
"We're excited at the economic opportunity…down in our part of the state," Tong said.
Others were less effusive. "I'm torn about this bill," said Rep. Tim LeGeyt, R-Canton. "I understand the benefits, I understand the potential that exists and I see a huge price tag."
LeGeyt said he also wants to make sure the state's limited pool of bond money is spread fairly among all the state's universities.
But ultimately, LeGeyt voted yes, saying he was swayed by the potential benefits the state will reap from its investment in UConn. "I rise in support of this bill but it's not an unbounding support, it's a narrowly held support," he said.
Rep. Christie Carpino, R-Cromwell, said she cannot back the plan, given the state's precarious financial status. "This may be the right plan but the wrong time," she said.
But UConn President Susan Herbst, in a statement issued moments after the vote early this morning, praised the legislature for its "far-sighted" action.
The impact on the university, Herbst said, will be "nothing short of transformational."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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