A $220 million agreement that would keep Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. in the state to produce a new line of heavy cargo helicopters for the U.S. military was moving easily through the General Assembly on Wednesday, with some lawmakers hailing the deal as a positive sign for manufacturing.
The Democratic-controlled Senate voted 35-1 in favor of the agreement recently reached between Sikorsky, Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's administration and Sikorsky's new owner, Maryland-based Lockheed Martin. The House, also controlled by Democrats, was expected to pass the bill later in the afternoon.
A separate agreement with unionized Sikorsky workers still must be ratified.
Democratic Senate President Martin Looney, of New Haven, noted how Connecticut was competing with Florida, South Carolina, Texas and Georgia to build nearly 200 CH-53K King Stallion helicopters, calling the deal an "extraordinary coup." 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.
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.
"The King Stallion is the only helicopter of its type in the world, and it is being built right here in Connecticut because we have the skilled workforce capable of producing the next generation helicopter," said Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk.
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. The agreement also requires Sikorsky to increase its spending with approximately 300 local suppliers across the state, from about $350 million to $675 million, Looney said.
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."
Kelly called the agreement a "good short-term fix" for Connecticut's economy, urging his fellow lawmakers to take additional steps to make the state more business-friendly. It was a theme repeated by Republicans, the legislature's minority party, throughout Wednesday's special session, with some noting General Electric's recent move to Massachusetts. 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.
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."