(Updated 4:03 p.m.) Connecticut’s minimum wage increased in January and it’s scheduled to rise again next year, but Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced Tuesday that he will seek yet another minimum wage increase to bring Connecticut up to $10.10 per hour by 2017.
At a Bridgeport press conference two days before his budget address, Malloy announced he would look to pass an increase in the minimum wage this legislative session. The proposal mirrors a similar one embraced by President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress.
“I do not think Connecticut should wait,” Malloy said Tuesday. “When it comes to lifting people out of poverty, Connecticut must be a leader as it has always been.”
The urgency expressed is new. Two years ago, Malloy tried not to get involved in the debate over the minimum wage and one year ago he was content to let the federal government take the lead.
“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 2012 when former House Speaker Chris Donovan made a big push for a minimum wage hike.
In February 2013, Malloy said he favored a national increase in the minimum wage.
“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.
On Tuesday in Bridgeport, Malloy said the state is seeing an improvement in the economy and corporations are earning “record profits,” including those corporations that run retail and food service businesses most impacted by the minimum wage.
He said the goal of his administration when it comes to implementing policies like a minimum wage hike is an attempt to move as many people as possible to the middle class.
Coupled with a $55 tax refund to 2.7 million taxpayers, how is an increase in the minimum wage a political move in an election year?
“What I’m trying to do is the right thing,” Malloy said, denying that Tuesday’s proposal was motivated by politics.
Malloy has not said whether he will seek re-election. However, an increase in the minimum wage has been a crucial issue for the Working Families Party, which cross-endorsed Malloy in the 2010 election. He won that election by 6,404 votes.
“People vote because of the policies a governor espouses and when the governor espouses support for Bridgeport’s second train station, and helping us to find decent housing in inferior public housing settings and the minimum wage,” Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch said. “You can’t help but be enthusiastic about that.”
Finch, a Democrat, said he would like to see Malloy in office for four more years.
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said Malloy simply ripped a page out of the Democratic playbook.
“Increasing the minimum wage again — Connecticut just raised it 33 days ago — may test well with people answering poll questions at home but it does not sit right with people who create jobs, namely small business owners,” Cafero said Tuesday. “Hiking the minimum wage when businesses continue to struggle to meet payrolls has proven to be a mistake.”
Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, agreed. He said hiking the minimum wage is part of the national Democratic Party’s agenda.
“This will hurt small business owners and cost jobs,” McKinney said Tuesday.
The National Federation of Independent Business wants to know why Malloy’s reasoning on the minimum wage seems to have dramatically changed since last year when he worried openly that a big jump could damage the state’s economy.
“We’d like to know what’s changed,” NFIB State Director Andrew Markowski said. “Last year, the governor warned that a higher minimum wage could damage small business. Now he’s calling for a 22 percent increase over the previous level. It’s very confusing.”
Malloy said he believes Congress should immediately enact a $10.10 minimum wage, but in the event they’re not going to do that then Connecticut needs to take action.
It is estimated that there are currently 70,000 to 90,000 Connecticut workers who earn the minimum wage. The governor’s proposal means that an employee working 40 hours per week would earn $21,008 per year.
“In this day and age, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty,” Malloy said. “When workers earn more money, businesses will have more customers. The modest boost we are helping to bring about in our state will help people make ends meet.”
Malloy said he does not support indexing the minimum wage at this point. He said that discussion can happen after the state gets to $10.10.
Malloy’s proposal would increase the minimum wage to $9.15 an hour in January 2015. By January 2016, it would increase to $9.60 an hour and by January 2017 it would be $10.10.
Malloy said he called House Speaker Brendan Sharkey and Senate President Donald Williams on Monday to let them know about the proposal.
“This will help tens of thousands struggling working families, and add hundreds of millions of dollars to our economy,” Sharkey said in a statement.
“From President Obama to Governor Malloy, momentum is building to address income inequality in this country,” Sen. Majority Leader Martin Looney said in a statement. “A low minimum wage forces the government to subsidize the cost of employment while privatizing the profits. As a result, the costs are shifted to government in the form of aid to low-wage workers.”