Lawmakers on the Labor and Public Employees Committee debated whether now was the right time to be increasing the minimum wage before passing a bill that increases it by 50 cents in each of the next two years.
House Speaker Chris Donovan, D-Meriden, who proposed the bill, had hoped to increase Connecticut’s $8.25 minimum wage by 75 cents over the next two years making it one of the highest in the nation, but Democratic lawmakers knocked off a quarter Thursday in order to appease the opposition. It also pushes back the effective date from July to January.
However, it will still be indexed to the Consumer Price Index in the third year. The substitute bill also increases the tip credit for waitresses from $5.69 to $5.80 an hour, and it freezes the hourly rate for bartenders at $7.34 for two years. The minimum wage would increase to $8.75 in the first year and $9.25 in 2014.
“We heard concerns both about the amount of the increase and the timing of implementation.The bill as it stands now addresses those concerns and still helps low-income workers across our state,” Donovan, who is also running for Congress, said in a statement.
Sen. Edith Prague, D-Columbia, said some of the more convincing testimony she heard during the public hearing came from an economist who told lawmakers now is a good time to raise the minimum wage.
“If an economist believes this is a good time to raise the minimum wage it should give us pause to think about that,” she said.
Like most of the Democrats on the committee, Prague believes that “If people had money in their pockets they would be able to spend a little more.”
“Secondly it helps people get out of poverty,” which she said is contributing the Connecticut’s largest in the nation achievement gap.
Despite the support its received from lawmakers, Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy will still need some convincing for it to pass.
“The Governor has always been a strong supporter of the minimum wage, but he does have concerns about potential impacts to the state economy. He will review the bill if it gets to his desk,” Roy Occhiogrosso, Malloy’s senior communications adviser, said Thursday.
Republican lawmakers like Rep. Craig Miner, R-Litchfield, were largely opposed to increasing the minimum wage.
“Not because people who raise this are in anyway less concerned, or more concerned than I am about people who earn minimum wage, but because I don’t see where these additional dollars continuously come from,” Miner said.
He said those who earn minimum wage qualify for the state’s new Earned Income Tax Credit. He said this is just going to make it harder for small businesses in the state to survive.
But proponents counter that a new report released today by the national Employment Law Project shows that about 57 percent of the 162,000 minimum wage workers in Connecticut are employed by large national chains.
“It might be hard to imagine, but for giant profitable corporations like Wal-Mart and McDonald’s times are better than ever,” Lindsay Farrell, executive director of the Connecticut Working Families Party, said.
But Republicans said they rather listen to their constituents instead of economists or special interest groups.
Miner said he doesn’t know any economist who has to make a payroll. He said economist usually work for universities or special interest groups.
“I don’t take an economists view as gospel,” Miner said. “And I don’t think most small business people would either.”
Rep. John Rigby, R-Colebrook, said those increases in salaries will mean consumers are going to have to pay more for goods.
He said his constituent, who is a bartender two nights a week at a chain restaurant in Torrington, told him to vote against the proposal because her restaurant has already closed three of its locations.
He said he thinks it will also push younger people, like grocery store baggers, out of the workforce.
Rep. Zeke Zalaski, D-Plantsville, said he has to disagree with Rigby about the negative impact a minimum wage increase would have on the economy. He said since minimum wage earners are so low wage “they spend all their income.”
“They’re going to spend all the income they gain from this and it’s going to go back into the community,” Zalaski said. “And maybe some of these restaurants or breakfast places that may have to pay a little more, at least maybe their employees eventually will be able to afford to go there and eat.”
The restaurant industry has been a vocal opponent of the legislation and will continue to be a vocal opponent according to its lobbyist who bristled at the notion the bill was some type of compromise.
The seven Democrats on the committee defeated a Republican amendment that sought to strike language which indexes the minimum wage to the Consumer Price Index after the first two years of 50 cent increases.
The bill passed 8 to 3 with the support of the committee’s seven Democrats and Sen. Tony Guglielmo, R-Stafford Springs. Reps. Miner, Rigby, and Bill Aman voted against it.