The fate of a bill to raise the state’s minimum wage was in doubt Wednesday when it was unclear whether there was enough Democratic support in the Senate to pass it.
Senate President Donald Williams said that when the majority party last met on the original proposal, the measure didn’t have enough votes to pass the chamber.
The original bill, proposed by House Speaker Chris Donovan, would have raised the wage from $8.25 to $9 an hour this year and again to $9.75 next year. After that, the wage would rise automatically as the Consumer Price Index rises.
However, the current version, revised by the Labor Committee and approved by the Appropriations Committee, only calls for an increase of 50 cents an hour in each of the next two years before indexing it.
After Senate Democrats met to discuss the revised bill Wednesday afternoon, Williams said some members were still thinking about the issue and hadn’t yet made up their minds.
“It’s an ongoing conversation right now,” he said. “Some people are still thinking about what was said in caucus, but we’ll be in touch with leadership in the days to come.”
Asked if he would raise the bill in the House if there weren’t enough votes in the Senate, Donovan said simply “We’re going to pass the minimum wage bill.”
Several senators were lukewarm on the timing of the bill on Wednesday morning. Sen. Andrew Maynard, D-Stonington, described himself as “legitimately torn” on the issue. He said he was confident people should be getting paid more than the current $8.25 rate, especially people working for large corporations like Wal-Mart.
However, Maynard had concerns about how the change might impact small “mom and pop” businesses in the state.
Maynard said he would prefer to see a bill that raises the wage once and doesn’t go into effect until next year. Lawmakers could look at the issue again next year, rather than having it rise automatically.
As it’s currently drafted the first increase would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2013.
Sen. Edward Meyer, D-Guilford, said he was also unsure about the bill this year. Meyer said he’s heard from businesses in his district on the negative impact of raising the minimum wage. Restaurants are especially opposed to the bill, he said.
Meyer said he did not know where all his Democratic colleagues stood on the issue, but he wasn’t confident the bill would pass this year.
“The tide is building against a minimum wage increase this year,” he said.
If some Democrats in the Senate are feeling apprehensive about the timing of the bill, they join Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who has expressed concerns about increasing the minimum wage in the current business climate.
“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 in January.
Senate Minority Leader John McKinney said the lack of support this year from Democrats who typically support increasing the minimum wage is a reflection of the economic times.
“Those who are opposed to it, even some Democrats, are saying [proponents] aren’t factoring in the cost to the employer who’s paying it. I think it’s a much more difficult vote in very difficult economic times, when our focus needs to be getting unemployment down,” he said.
Some in the chamber are in strong support of the measure, like Sen. Edith Prague, D-Columbia, who encouraged colleagues to support it when it was voted out of the Appropriations Committee.
“This is a good bill. It doesn’t do an awful lot but it does a little something and the people of this state deserve a little something,” she said last week.
Sen. Tony Guglielmo, R-Stafford, also supports raising the minimum wage. He helped vote it out of the Labor Committee in March.
On Wednesday, Guglielmo said he’s still supportive of the concept but doesn’t like the provision of the bill which indexes the rate. He said allowing the wage to rise and fall automatically with inflation was shrugging a responsibility that belongs to the legislature.
McKinney said he was confident Guglielmo was the only Republican in the Senate who would be supportive of the bill this year.
Donovan said he will keep trying to pick up support for the measure in the Senate.
“We’re working for it,” he said. “. . . We’ll talk to them, we’ll see what we can do.”