As the clock ticks toward the start of another legislative session in January, Connecticut lawmakers will once again be confronted about whether they should raise the hourly minimum wage — and by how much.
Increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour was a concept adopted earlier this week as part of the national Democratic Party’s platform. And even though it was embraced by the national party, it’s fate in Connecticut is still uncertain.
Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who has been cautious of his support for past minimum wage increases, said through a spokesman that he’s looking forward to next year’s debate.
“Governor Malloy firmly believes we need to make the minimum wage a livable wage and is proud to have been the first governor to sign legislation raising Connecticut’s minimum wage to $10.10,” Malloy spokesman Chris McClure said.
However, “further increases in the minimum wage will require a thoughtful analysis and the input of stakeholders across the state,” McClure added.
In Connecticut, the minimum wage is slated to rise from its current $9.60 an hour to $10.10 an hour on Jan. 1, 2017.
But some lawmakers want to see bigger increases, quicker.
Last year, lawmakers created the Low Wage Advisory Board to advise them and the administration on the issue. The board has been holding public hearings across the state to gather information about the impact low wages have on Connecticut residents.
At a public hearing in Bridgeport last week, person after person and politician after politician told the board that the current minimum wage was not a living wage.
DeShawn Brownel, a security officer who lives in East Hartford, told the advisory board that he and his wife can’t pay their bills on his hourly salary of $13.99 an hour and her kindergarten teacher salary of $12 an hour.
“When you earn less than $15 an hour you have to rob Peter to pay Paul,” Brownel said. “We bring home about $3,200 a month, but our rent takes up $1,000 of that.”
Brownel said to those that argue that businesses can’t afford to pay higher wages, “If you pay higher wages you, as an employer, are rewarded with loyalty from your employees. They stay in their jobs longer, meaning you don’t have to constantly keep re-training new workers.”
Sen. Marilyn Moore, D-Trumbull, told the crowd a story she’s often repeated about spending a month last year working as a minimum wage employee at Target.
“I didn’t need the job,” Moore said. “I just wanted to find out what it was like to be a low wage earner.”
What she found out, Moore told the crowd, “is that nobody can live off that wage. I also found out that not everybody making minimum wage are teenagers.”
Moore told the crowd, which greeted her words with loud applause: “We have millionaires who live in the Black Rock section of Bridgeport. Meanwhile, overall the city of Bridgeport is one of the poorest cities in Connecticut.”
Moore’s push for a minimum wage increase was supported at the public hearing by her fellow legislator — Sen. Ed Gomes, D-Bridgeport.
Gomes said there was “an incredible gap between the wealthiest and the poor in Fairfield County.”
In the city of Bridgeport, “We’ve had factories close, good middle class jobs disappear. Meanwhile, the incomes of the richest 1 percent in this state have soared,” Gomes said.
But not everyone at the hearing spoke in support of raising the minimum wage.
Tom Wilkinson, owner of Advantage Cleaning in Woodbridge, said he was speaking on behalf of “small business owners.”
Turning away from the legislative panel and toward the audience, Wilkinson said: “I would love to pay $15, $20, $30 an hour to my workers. I would love to give them great pensions, great health insurance,” he continued. “But who is going to pay for all that? I sure can’t afford to.”
Wilkinson added: “Whether anyone wants to admit it, companies are moving out of Connecticut. The reason is because Connecticut is not a business friendly state. It costs too much to operate a business here.”
Michael Seid, a commission member and managing director of MSA Worldwide Franchise Consulting Firm, mentioned, more than once, that he too was concerned that raising the minimum wage would “chase jobs out of the state.”
In the 2016 legislative session a bill that originally would have fined large companies for not paying their employees $15 an hour was amended to increase the minimum wage to $12 an hour by Jan. 1, 2020, and failed.
The bill, raised by Moore, called for the minimum wage, which, again is already slated to increase under current law to $10.10 per hour on Jan. 1, 2017, to increase to $10.70 an hour on Jan. 1, 2018, $11.30 an hour on Jan. 1, 2019, and finally to $12 an hour on Jan. 1, 2020.
Two years ago Connecticut was the first state in the nation to pass a law increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. Passage of the legislation came after a visit from President Barack Obama.
The law increased Connecticut’s $8.70-an-hour minimum wage in 2014 to $9.15 on Jan. 1, 2015; $9.60 on Jan. 1, 2016; and finally to $10.10 on Jan. 1, 2017.
Carlos Moreno, communications director for the Connecticut Working Families Party, said they will continue to fight to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
“There are 64 million people in this country working and making less than $15 an hour,” Moreno said. “That is unacceptable.”
The board’s next public hearing will be 3 p.m., Aug. 10 at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.