A boost in the state’s $8.25 an hour minimum wage began to look more likely Friday after Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced he would lobby lawmakers to raise it to $9 an hour over two years.
“I’ve spoken with some of the business community and believe that we can get to $9 an hour over the next two years, an increase that will make it just a little easier for working people in our state without adversely impacting the business community,” he said. “The fact is, this is just good public policy.”
Friday’s active support represents a departure for Malloy, who in February signaled he would decide whether to sign a bill raising the statewide minimum wage if lawmakers sent one to his desk. He said he would prefer to see the wage increased at the federal level.
House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, who was also “skeptical” of raising the wage earlier this year, said Friday he thought Malloy’s proposal struck a balance between protecting businesses and helping low-wage workers.
Whereas the legislature’s Labor Committee recommended boosting the wage by $1.50 over two years then setting it to rise and fall with the Consumer Price Index, Malloy has called for a more modest $.75 increase and opposed any indexing.
“We are always concerned about the economic realities facing working families and a fair minimum wage is a critical part of the equation,” Sharkey said. “It is important to find the right balance between helping people and protecting our economy, and I think the Governor’s proposal meets that balance.”
Last year, the House approved a two-year plan to raise the wage by $1, thanks in large part to a persistent lobbying effort by then-House Speaker Chris Donovan. But the legislation died in the Senate where lawmakers expressed concerns about saddling the business community with increased costs in a weak economy.
Although opponents maintain economic conditions have not improved enough to warrant raising the wage, some say the concept has gained support this year and Malloy’s push may be enough to get a bill passed.
“Certainly when the governor gets behind a proposal like this and there is already momentum going towards it, absolutely I think it will give it the momentum it needs to get over the top,” Rep. Sean Williams, R-Watertown, said.
Williams said he believed the proposal would “cripple small businesses” already “dying on the vine.” But he was especially concerned that Malloy seems open to considering an increase in rates earned by restaurant employees whose income is based largely on gratuity.
Andrew Doba, Malloy’s spokesman, said the governor is seeking an increase in the tip credit for waiters and waitresses, but he’s not advocating for the rate to be increased to $9 an hour. Currently, waiters and waitresses make less than the minimum wage because it’s assumed they will receive enough in tips to more than make up the difference. When they don’t make enough in tips they receive the standard minimum wage.
Nicole Griffin, executive director of the Connecticut Restaurant Association, said any mandated increase in the wages of restaurant workers would hurt an industry that has already seen many businesses close their doors in the last few years.
“I’m not surprised the governor supports this. The bill has been gaining momentum in the legislature and we’ve been working to educate legislators, from the restaurant perspective, that we’re a little bit different from the average business because our employees are tipped,” she said.
The bill may have growing support among some Senate Democrats who opposed it last year. Sen. Steve Cassano, D-Manchester, said the timing of last year’s legislation was wrong for the economy, but this year’s maybe more palatable with a compromise for the business community. He said he would like to see some constraints added to the paid sick leave program the legislature passed in 2011, which was adamantly opposed by businesses.
“I would be glad to support the minimum wage, but as a part of that… I want those that are 18 and under eliminated from that program unless they’re a single parent,” Cassano said. “That’s one of the trade offs I’ve asked for and it will help balance the impact on companies as well.”
Sen. Cathy Osten, co-chairwoman of the Labor Committee, has been pushing for a minimum wage increase since her committee raised the concept in January. She said she was not sure she supported Cassano’s compromise but would consider it to get an increase passed. She said ideally, she wanted to see the legislature pass a bill that retains the Committee’s proposal to index the minimum wage.
“I understand the concept [of removing the indexing proposal.] I would certainly like to see us address the issue once and for all but that’s certainly something that’s on the table,” she said.