Next Generation UConn: Connecticut Paying for Other States’ Jobs
Published: Friday, August 30, 2013
Updated: Friday, August 30, 2013 00:08
When the bill known as Next Generation UConn passed the Connecticut legislature in June, it was hailed as a triumph. The passing margins were the opposite of slim: 29-5 in the state Senate and 120-21 in the state House, both 85 to 15 percent in favor. (This in a political climate in which, as the political comedian Bill Maher noted, “You can’t get 70 percent of politicians to agree that the sun is hot.”) The Connecticut Mirror, usually known for their qualitative and unbiased reporting, wrote a headline upon passage stating that the plan “moves forward” the university.
I am not so sure.
Just to be clear, I am not definitively stating defiant opposition. The plan will be implemented over the course of 10 years, so only time will tell for certain. As Yogi Berra once said, “It’s very difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.” But right now it worries me that UConn is spending $2.1 billion so that students can get the best jobs in other states.
Let me explain. Connecticut is now in its 16th consecutive month and counting in which our unemployment rate is higher than the national average. Historically speaking, the state rarely reaches this unfortunate statistic, with the longest previous streak in the past three decades totaling 10 straight months. By comparison, the state went 31 months from May 2008 through Nov. 2010 without having a month higher than the national average, and that was during the absolute depths of the Great Recession. By another comparison going even further back, we once went an astounding 14 years from Jan. 1982 through July 1996 without once posting a monthly unemployment rate higher than the national average.
A Forbes magazine article earlier this month ranked our state dead last in annual economic growth among all 50 states, including running up the fourth largest debt per capita. Clearly, we need to do two things: jump start our economic growth and shrink our debt. I fear that Next Generation UConn will make both of those goals worse, not better.
In a sentence, the plan spends $2.1 billion – $1.6 billion of it borrowed – to increase UConn investment in the STEM fields: science, technology, engineering, and math. The result will be more classrooms, more faculty, and more students. Clearly, the STEM fields are the primary source of both future societal progress and job opportunities. (Not in philosophy, unfortunately.) But where are these developments occurring? For the most part, it’s been in locations such as Silicon Valley in California and the Carolinas research triangle, not Connecticut.
And when our state has made headlines over the past few years for laws passed, it is often for business-unfriendly measures. Raising business taxes by 10.3 percent, the fifth-highest jump among all 50 states. Increasing the state’s minimum wage, when we had the fourth-highest minimum wage in the nation even before the hike. Passing the country’s first – and so far only – mandatory paid sick leave law. We were one of only two states to accumulate zero net job growth between 1990 and 2000, and that was before all the aforementioned measures.
I worry that Next Generation Connecticut will essentially be spending $2.1 billion of Connecticut taxpayer money to pay for education that students will in turn utilize when they get science, technology, engineering, or math jobs in other states. In other words, while it will provide some jobs in academia and construction, and will generate increased grant income – all important factors – will it create enough actual non-teaching jobs in the STEM fields right here in Connecticut to keep and attract new workers? And will this make our fourth-highest state debt per capita third, second, or first?
At the risk of sounding too much like a member of the Tea Party, let me clarify that I like parts of Malloy’s plan. More specifically, I like the part where he invests in higher education and our state’s flagship public university. But there are two components in order to achieve full success and jump start Connecticut’s economy with STEM fields leading the way: investment in higher education to train new workers, and a business-friendly environment to keep and employ those workers. Next Generation Connecticut fulfills part one of two. Is the second component in place?