The Labor and Public Employees Committee passed an increase in the minimum wage Thursday along party lines, but the proposal faces skepticism from both the House speaker and the governor.
The committee altered its original bill, scheduling a 75 cent increase in the wage for January 2014, with another 75 cent increase a year later. After July 2015, the minimum wage would rise automatically with the Consumer Price Index once a year.
The bill cleared the committee in a 7-4 vote, but legislative leadership and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy have been less than enthusiastic about the proposal.
At an unrelated press conference Thursday, House Speaker Brendan Sharkey said he was “skeptical” of the bill at this point and wanted to see what information comes from the public hearing process.
“I’ve been hesitant about it. I’m not sure we’re still quite out of where we’ve been through in terms of the economic realities out there,” he said. “I need to get a little more information on what impact this may have on, particularly, small businesses in the state.”
Sharkey’s predecessor, former Speaker Chris Donovan, was one the biggest advocates behind last year’s unsuccessful effort to raise the minimum wage. That bill passed the House in a close vote. Sharkey, who served as majority leader at the time, was out of town and did not vote on the measure. The bill was never raised in the Senate where there wasn’t enough support among Democrats to pass the bill.
In late January, Senate President Donald Williams said he hadn’t taken a head count of Senate Democrats to see if their support for the proposal has increased since last year. His spokesman said Thursday that hasn’t changed.
It’s also unclear whether Malloy would sign the measure if it passed. Earlier this month, he said he favored a national increase in the minimum wage over a statewide increase. Malloy was asked about it at a press conference days after President Barack Obama proposed increasing the national wage to $9 an hour during his state of the union address.
“The best way to do this would be to do it on a national basis. It would be the fairest way. It would lift up all of our citizenry,” Malloy said.
For generations the minimum wage was raised on a national basis rather than a state-by-state basis, but something happened and the federal government stopped playing a leading role, Malloy said. The governor credited Obama with starting that discussion again.
“I support him in it 100 percent. With respect to any legislation that comes my way, when it comes my way, we’ll make a decision,” he said.
Labor Committee Co-chairwoman Sen. Cathy Osten said she would like to see the bill passed unchanged but would be open to compromise if it were necessary.
“For this bill to pass it has to go through the leadership of all four caucuses and actually have discussion on it on the floor. So I’m not going to say it’s not going to change at all,” she said. “. . . This is a bill I would like to see passed in its entirety but I recognize the reality of situation and I’m amenable to talking about it as we move forward.”
Unlike last year, the Labor Committee approved the bill without chiseling away at their proposed increase in the minimum wage. But Republican lawmakers voiced the same concerns as last year, which led to the reduction.
Restaurants, which typically employ many low-wage workers, have been staunch opponents of increasing the minimum wage. Rep. Sean Williams, R-Watertown, said lawmakers should try to consider small business restaurants.
“As far as these restaurants are concerned, we’re killing them. We’re killing their bottom line by doing this,” he said. “I would ask you not to think about the McDonalds of the world, the big corporations we often seek to impact with a bill with this. But think about the small mom and pops, the small companies trying to grow the economy in Connecticut.”
Osten disagreed, telling Williams that she worked for 40 years in a small family restaurant all of her six siblings, as well as dozens of her cousins. She said the diner she worked in tried to increase the minimum wage.
“I take those businesses very much into account when I talk about minimum wage all the time,” she said. “I also look at the amount of people . . . that live on minimum wage, that have barely enough money to supply food and clothing for their children.”
Williams said he appreciated Osten’s background, but was unconvinced they could increase the minimum wage without hurting small restaurants. He suggested he and Osten visit a restaurant together.
“I’d like to go there with you because, while it may seem like there’s no impact to their bottom line, those small businesses are the ones who have to figure out some way to meet these increased costs and that money doesn’t come out of thin air,” he said.