The House gave final passage Wednesday to legislation raising the state minimum wage to $9 an hour over the next two years.
Lawmakers approved the bill in a 89-53 vote after almost six hours of debate. The legislation, which was approved by the Senate last week, will raise the current $8.25 per hour minimum wage by 45 cents in January 2014 and another 30 cents in 2015.
The bill will now head to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who expressed support this year for raising the state minimum wage. In a statement following the bill’s passage, Malloy said he looked forward to signing the legislation into law.
“This change will make it just a little easier for working people in our state without adversely impacting the business community,” he said. “This is the right thing to do for hard working men and women, and the right thing to do for families.”
In a statement, House Speaker Brendan Sharkey called the 75 cent increase a balance between helping residents and improving the state’s economy.
“This is a reasonable and overdue increase in the minimum wage that will help thousands of Connecticut families,” he said.
The legislature rejected a provision in the original bill, which would have set the minimum wage to rise and fall with the Consumer Price Index. Indexing the wage could eliminate the need for lawmakers to revisit the issue every few years. The state last raised its minimum wage in 2010.
Last year, lawmakers in the House debated and passed a similar proposal, which was never acted upon by the Senate. In his opening remarks, Labor Committee Co-Chairman Rep. Peter Tercyak said the arguments for and against raising the wage change little from year to year.
Although critics of increasing the minimum wage argue the bill negatively impacts the state’s business community, Tercyak said businesses have weathered past increases in the minimum wage.
“Again and again, every few years we have a battle over raising the minimum wage and when we’re done the minimum wage workers earn a bit more, nobody’s wealthy, businesses manage to adjust if they can,” he said.
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero also recalled debating the minimum wage over his tenure in the legislature.
“I believe I’ve debated this bill on at least 10 different occasions, in fact I think when I first debated the bill, the minimum wage was somewhere in the $6 range. That’s how long I’ve been here,” he said.
Cafero said over the years he has occasionally voted in support of raising the minimum wage. He said during good economic times “it was only fair and just that that minimum wage should be adjusted to those good times.” He said he did not consider the current economic climate a good time for businesses.
“You need only turn on the radio or television or pick up the newspaper to learn of yet another company going out of business, downsizing, laying off hundreds of workers, and frankly those are the big companies… those are the ones that make the headlines,” he said adding that the struggles of smaller businesses don’t make the news.
Tercyak said the economy has improved, just not for people struggling near or just above the bottom of the economic ladder. He said the bill they were debating would only increase the earnings of someone making minimum wage by $936 a year.
“Every single penny of that is going to go into the local economy. None of it is going to go into buying stocks or being hidden in exotic financial instruments. It’s all going to be spent,” he said.
But opponents argue that employers will shed jobs if forced to raise what they pay some of their workers.
“You’re one of these small, family-owned businesses that are holding on by their fingernails and you are faced with this increase, what do you think they do? You know what I’m afraid they might do? They might go to that minimum wage earner and say… ‘I’m sorry, I can’t afford to keep you anymore,’” Cafero said.
Rep. Anthony D’Amelio, a Waterbury Republican who runs a restaurant, agreed, saying many businesses want to pay their employees more but can’t afford it.
“This bill, as well-intentioned as it is, will cost jobs,” he said. “… There is nowhere else to squeeze a dollar, especially in this economy.”
Tercyak said low-wage workers are also struggling to make ends meet. He said more than 100,000 workers in Connecticut earn minimum wage, more than half of which are women. He said about 80 percent of those workers are at least 20 years old.
“You can’t doubt that a family that’s presently getting by on $17,160 a year can’t find good ways to spend another $936,” he said.
Cafero disagreed with Tercyak, saying he did not think there were many people supporting families for long earning minimum wage.
“With all due respect, despite some of the rhetoric, it’s been my experience that it’s been hard-pressed to find someone who is raising a family on minimum wage for an extended period of time. It’s an entry-level wage,” he said.
Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, said raising the minimum wage would give teenagers more spending money, but he did not think that would serve as an economic boom for the state.
“Our teenagers might be happy. They may have a little more money to go see movies, so some movie theaters might be happy,” he said.
Republicans offered an amendment that would have allowed businesses to keep paying newly-hired employees $8.25 an hour as a “training wage” for their first 90 days. The training wage would have only applied to people between 18 and 24 years old. The amendment failed on a 55-85 vote.