Hugh McQuaid Photo
House Speaker Brendan Sharkey talks with, Mark Ojakian, the governor’s chief of staff as the House debates minimum wage (Hugh McQuaid Photo)

(Updated 7 p.m.) Democrats in both legislative chambers voted to raise Connecticut’s minimum wage to $10.10 by 2017 after back-to-back debates Wednesday, sending the bill to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who plans to sign it Thursday.

State Democrats have made the bill’s passage a top priority during this election year session. It mirrors a federal policy called for by President Barack Obama, who visited Connecticut earlier this month in support of the legislation.

“I hope Members of Congress, governors, state legislators and business leaders across our country will follow Connecticut’s lead to help ensure that no American who works full time has to raise a family in poverty, and that every American who works hard has the chance to get ahead,” Obama said in an emailed statement shortly after passage of the bill.

Currently, Connecticut’s minimum wage is $8.70 an hour. The legislation will boost that to $9.15 on January 1, 2015; to $9.60 on January 1, 2016; and finally to $10.10 on January 1, 2017.

Senators approved the measure in a 21-14 vote after more than three hours of debate. Sen. Joan Hartley, D-Waterbury broke with her caucus and joined Republicans in voting against the hike. Lawmakers in the House gave final passage to bill hours later in an 87-54 vote, with four Democrats joining Republicans in opposing it.

After the vote, Malloy announced plans to sign the bill into law during a Thursday ceremony at Café Beauregard, a New Britain restaurant where he and other New England governors ate lunch with Obama when the president visited on March 5. He said the bill’s passage makes Connecticut a national leader on the issue.

“Increasing the minimum wage is not just good for workers, it’s also good for business,” Malloy said. “This modest increase will give working families a boost, and it will contribute to our economy by getting just a little more money into the pockets of people who will spend it in their communities.”

Proponents in the legislature also used the word “modest” in describing the increase, which puts Connecticut’s wage among the highest in the country. Supporters pushed back against the perception that most minimum wage workers are teenagers in part-time jobs.

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Sen. President Don Williams shakes hands with Labor Chair Sen. Gary Holder Winfield following vote (Hugh McQuaid Photo)

“This bill is a modest step forward made on behalf of those who have the least, working their hardest to provide for themselves and their families. It’s the least we can do to give them a hand up,” Senate President Donald Williams said.

The bill is also strong campaign issue for Democrats. A poll released this month by Quinnipiac University suggests widespread (71 percent) support for increasing the minimum wage among Connecticut voters.

Nearly all Democratic lawmakers voted in favor of the bill. Meanwhile, the state Democratic Party quickly released a statement criticizing Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, a Fairfield Republican and gubernatorial candidate, for opposing the bill.

Hartley, a Waterbury Democrat who also opposed an increase in the wage passed last year, expressed concerns that it would suppress employment opportunities in Waterbury, especially for young people.

“I don’t have jobs in my community to raise the minimum wage,” she said. “. . . As I speak to you this afternoon, my unemployment rate right now is just below 13 percent in my city.”

Republicans in both chambers opposed the legislation over concerns that it will hurt the state’s businesses and economy at a time when Connecticut residents are still struggling to find jobs.

House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero said the legislature continues to send the state’s businesses mixed messages. He pointed to a vote last year to increase the minimum wage over two years.

“Folks we just did this a year ago. Did we get it wrong a year ago? Did we blow it?” he said.

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Sen. Joe Markley (Hugh McQuaid Photo)

Sen. Joe Markley, R-Southington, called it one more damaging policy in a long line of laws from the state.

“We have over the course of 50 or 60 years, destroyed a great economy in the state of Connecticut. I don’t say that this bill in and of itself is . . . going to have any worse effect than many other similar errors we have made, but I think it is yet another in a long line,” he said. “I will oppose it and regret the further decay of the state economy.”

During the debate Democrats easily struck down a number of proposed changes by Republicans. One unsuccessful change would have prevented the need for future minimum wage debates by linking the wage to the consumer price index. Another defeated amendment would adjusted tip credit rates for wait staff so restaurants would not be required to increase their wages.

In a statement after the vote, House Speaker Brendan Sharkey said Connecticut had set an example for Congress to follow.

“Today was about supporting the thousands of struggling working families in our state, and adding hundreds of millions of dollars to our economy,” he said.