House Speaker Chris Donovan and Democratic lawmakers want to raise the minimum wage by $1.50 per hour over the next two years, then index it to rise with the cost of living.
They made their pitch Tuesday afternoon at a Capitol press conference.
If passed, the proposal would raise the wage from $8.25 to $9.00 an hour this year and raise it again to $9.75 next year. After that, the wage would rise automatically as the Consumer Price Index rises, he said. Currently, the legislature takes up the issue of adjusting the minimum wage about every two or three years.
The current minimum wage is not enough for working families to get by, Donovan said Tuesday. For example, a family of three with one person working would earn $17,160 a year under the current minimum wage. That’s $5,000 under the poverty line, he said.
“So people are working, putting in 40 hours week 52 weeks out of the year, and their earning poverty wages,” Donovan added.
About 106,000 people in Connecticut earn the minimum wage and around 83 percent of them are over the age of 20, he said. Many of the jobs that the state has gained as its worked its way out of the recession have been low paying, he said.
“We have mothers and fathers who lost their jobs and are now trying to make ends meet and the jobs that are available to them, because they want to work, are minimum wage jobs. We have to do our best as a society, as members of the General Assembly to say, ‘We understand that you’re working hard and we want to make sure you get enough wages that you are not poor,’” he said.
However, if House Democrats want to see the wage increase signed into law, they will have to convince Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who isn’t sold on the idea. On a conference call with reporters, the governor said he’s anxious to see how the Earned Income Tax Credit and the paid sick time passed last year will impact the system.
Malloy said it wasn’t his idea to propose the increase but he will watch the debate and reserve judgment.
“I’m not slamming any doors. I’m not saying ‘No’ but I’ll watch the debate and perhaps reach a conclusion subsequently,” Malloy said.
The proposal also is unlikely to be popular with businesses. Andrew Markowski of the National Federation of Independent Business, said raising the minimum wage would be the worst thing for small businesses at this time. If passed, Connecticut’s wage would far exceed our neighboring states, he said.
“If you look at what New York and New Jersey are doing right now, their minimum wage proposals are just trying to catch up to where Connecticut currently is. The last thing we need is to go above and beyond at a time when economic conditions are contracting,” he said.
If the state made its minimum wage one the highest in the nation the year after it became the first to mandate paid time off for sick workers, it shouldn’t expect to attract many businesses, he said.
“It sends the wrong message at the wrong time. It’s a bad idea that’s wrapped in good intentions,” he said. “It claims to help the people it’s going to hurt the most: those people that are seeking entry level or part time jobs.”
Rep. Diana Urban, D- North Stonington, an economist, said almost everyone in the field agrees that as long as the increase in the minimum wage isn’t greater than 10 percent, it doesn’t have a negative impact on employment.
“This is because it gives the chance for markets to adjust and adjust they do,” she said.
Increasing the minimum wage gives the economy a direct boost because minimum wage earners spend their money, Urban said.
“If we’re looking for a bump up in the economy, we’re looking at approximately $71 million that our minimum wage earners will pump right back into the demand side of the equation,” she said.
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero said he doesn’t think it’s the right time to increase the minimum wage.
“The speaker and I have had long philosophical conversations about this since he became speaker, as a matter of fact even before. We both agree about the importance of the minimum wage, I think where we disagree is the timing,” he said.
With the state still in the midst of a devastating depression, the proposal would hurt small businesses, he said. Those businesses were hit with a large unemployment compensation increase this past fall, he said.
“Our priority has to be giving people wages as opposed to raising the minimum wage. There are so many people out of work that don’t even have that minimum wage, in this economy we have to focus on getting those people back to work,” he said.
However, Cafero was not opposed to the idea of indexing the minimum wage, which he said wasn’t necessarily a bad idea. If the economy doesn’t improve neither would the minimum wage, he said.
“I think there’s a fairness about that. If people are doing better and costs are going up, the wages should go up. If we’re not doing that well and costs have stagnated, they should not go up,” he said.
If Connecticut moved to an indexed minimum wage it would join nine other states that have adopted a similar system.