Hugh McQuaid photo
Rep. Ezequiel Santiago (Hugh McQuaid photo)

One quarter per year. That’s the increase in the minimum wage the House approved 88-62 Thursday afternoon.

The revised bill increases the minimum wage from $8.25 an hour to $8.50 an hour in the first year, and $8.75 an hour in the following year. Initially, the legislation would have increased the minimum wage to $9 per hour in the first year and $9.75 an hour in the second year. The original bill also had planned to tie any future minimum wage increases automatically to the Consumer Price Index.

Rep. Ezequiel Santiago, vice chair of the Labor Committee, said they reduced the increase through negotiations. He said a higher minimum wage would have provided a bigger stimulus to the economy, but this puts “$1,000 more a year in the pockets of people who will spend it locally.”

Someone working 40 hours a week on minimum wage makes $17,160 currently. Under this legislation they would be making $17,680 after Jan. 1, 2013, and $18,200 by Jan. 1, 2014.

Santiago argued even though the increase is lower than they wanted it still will benefit about 106,000 workers in the state. He said 80 percent of minimum wage workers are age 20 or older. Santiago didn’t know how many of those workers were waiters and waitresses who receive the tip credit, which is lower than the minimum wage because their income is supplemented by tips.

Waiters and waitresses will see their hourly tip credit increase from $5.69 to $5.80 in the first year, then will see an additional 24 cent increase in 2015. Bartenders will have to wait until 2015 to see an increase of 45 cents to their current $7.34 an hour.

Opponents of the bill said they’re not opposed to increasing the wages of low-wage workers.

Hugh McQuaid photo
Rep. John Rigby (Hugh McQuaid photo)

“I don’t think there’s a person in this chamber that doesn’t want working people to make more money. A vote against this bill isn’t a vote against those individuals,” Rep. John Rigby, R-Colebrook, said.

“The point that we have to consider today is this is absolutely the wrong time to bring up this legislation,” Rigby said. “It’s the wrong time for the restaurant industry. It’s the wrong time for manufacturing. The economy hasn’t rebounded sufficiently to do this.”

Rep. Anthony D’Amelio, R-Waterbury, said there’s articles everyday in the newspaper about Connecticut companies struggling or moving. D’Amelia talked about 104-year-old Quassy Amusement Park in Middlebury. He said it would cost the owners $150,000 more to keep all 300 of his seasonal employees, if the state increased the minimum wage by 50 cents.

“What kind of message are we sending to him and other businesses in the state of Connecticut” D’Amelio said. “Here’s a company willing to invest in these tough economic times and we’re going to hinder that.”

D’Amelio, who owns a restaurant, said the economy over the last four years has been among the toughest he’s faced in 30 years in business.

“I wish I could pay my employees $30, $40, $50 an hour,” D’Amelio said. “‘Cause they’re all worth it. But that’s not reality. The reality is I can only afford to pay so much.”

Proponents of increasing the minimum wage point out that it is the large, national chains that are paying their workers minimum wage in Connecticut. According to the National Employment Law Project, 28 percent of Connecticut’s low-wage workers are employed by only five large employers: Wal-Mart, Yum Foods, McDonalds, Target, and Sodexho.

House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero said the businesses that will be hurt are family-owned enterprises that sponsor little league teams. They arent’ these big, national businesses, he said.

“You guys — you whacked me with the paid sick days stuff and these increased taxes,” Cafero said, referring to legislation passed last year. “I’m sad to say, unintentionally, we are responsible for a lot of that suffering.”

Santiago said the debate focused largely on businesses and not enough on these low-wage workers. He said the focus should be on those workers.

Hugh McQuaid photo
House Speaker Chris Donovan (Hugh McQuaid photo)

The minimum wage should be around $10, if it had kept pace with the cost of living, Santiago said, adding that many people are forced to live off more than one minimum wage job, often without benefits.

The bill now heads to the Senate where many senators have said they’re torn over the issue. As of Thursday morning, the Senate still had not caucused the bill, giving House Speaker Chris Donovan, the bill’s main proponent, enough space to debate it. If the Senate had said they weren’t going to take it up, then Donovan would have faced criticism from the House for holding a debate and a vote on the bill that doesn’t have a chance of becoming law.

Ten Democratic lawmakers in the House voted against the bill, including state Rep. William Tong, who is running for the U.S. Senate.

“This is a bill that if it passes I can get behind,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Thursday afternoon at an unrelated event. “I think moderation that’s being demonstrated is appropriate.”