HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A $220 million agreement that would keep Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. in Connecticut for at least the next 16 years to produce a new line of heavy cargo helicopters for the U.S. military easily cleared the General Assembly on Wednesday, with some lawmakers hailing the deal as a positive sign for manufacturing in the state.
The deal reached between Sikorsky, Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's administration and Sikorsky's new owner, Maryland-based Lockheed Martin, passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 136-6 and the Senate on a 35-1 tally. Both chambers are controlled by Democrats.
While some minority Republicans grumbled about having to pay the company to essentially remain in the state, many Democrats were celebratory, pleased that Connecticut was able to beat back competition from other, less expensive states. Democratic Senate President Martin Looney, of New Haven, said Connecticut was competing with Florida, South Carolina, Texas and Georgia to build nearly 200 CH-53K King Stallion helicopters.
"We're rising to the challenge and we won," said House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz, a Democrat from Berlin. He noted other recent announcements by submarine-maker Electric Boat and jet engine-maker Pratt & Whitney to add jobs.
The Sikorsky agreement still needs approval from union workers.
Malloy, who is expected to sign the bill into law, said Wednesday the agreement will support thousands of jobs at Sikorsky's headquarters in Stratford as well as help hundreds of small businesses across the state that serve as suppliers to the helicopter manufacturer. Under the arrangement, Connecticut will provide Sikorsky $220 million in grants and tax exemptions over 14 years. In return, the company will build nearly 200 of the helicopters in Connecticut, beginning in 2019 through at least June 2032. Sikorsky will also increase its spending with local suppliers from about $350 million to $675 million
Looney said if Connecticut was unable to lure the new product line, the state could have lost Sikorsky, considering work on the company's Black Hawk helicopter is slowing.
"I think that might have been the reality we were looking at," he said, crediting the state's already trained workforce for helping to win the CH-53K helicopter program.
The aircraft manufacturer was created by engineer Igor Sikorsky in 1925. He moved the company from New York to Stratford in 1929. The company currently employs about 7,600 workers in the state. Under this agreement, Sikorsky also is expected to grow and retain full-time employment at approximately 8,000 jobs.
"These are the types of jobs that can pay a mortgage and educate our kids," noted Republican Sen. Kevin Kelly, whose district includes Stratford. "It's more than just a helicopter. It's important to our community."
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, voted for the agreement, but said she did so with a heavy heart. She and other Republicans argued that Connecticut needs to become more business-friendly, with some noting General Electric's recent move to Massachusetts.
"We have to stop playing this cat-and-mouse game. We need to be the chased, not the chaser," she said. "We have to stop chasing business. We have to create a state where people want to be in, and that's not where we are now."
Senate Republicans unsuccessfully attempted to expand the day's agenda to include issues such as stopping planned rail and bus fares and requiring legislative approval of all state employee contracts. The next regular legislative session isn't scheduled to begin until January. State lawmakers are facing re-election in November.
Sen. Joe Markley, a Republican from Southington, cast the lone opposing vote in the Senate. He predicted Connecticut will have to continue offering packages to entice employers until it reduces the tax burden on businesses and stabilizes its budget, which has been afflicted by deficits.
"Rest assured," he said, "they'll keep lining up."