Christine Stuart photo

The Connecticut Working Families Party started a petition drive Friday asking Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to support legislation that would fine large employers who don’t pay their employees $15 an hour.

The Working Families Party and their allies in labor have complained that large, profitable corporations pay their workers so little that most qualify for state-sponsored benefits, such as Medicaid and food stamps. The Office of Fiscal Analysis has estimated that fining companies with more than 500 employees would raise about $305 million annually for the state.

The legislature has debated some version of the bill for the past three years, but has not passed it. A version of the bill was raised and then tabled in the Senate in the April. However, it was amended to raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020. Language to fine large employers was stripped through an amendment.

“I’m always willing to study things,” Malloy said Friday at an event at the Connecticut Science Center.

He declined to say whether he would support the legislation if it made it to his desk.

“What I have concentrated on and will continue to concentrate on, is making sure we are steadily increasing the minimum wage,” Malloy said.

The minimum wage is scheduled to increase to $10.10 an hour on Jan. 1, 2017, but Malloy said they may need to engage in a discussion about how to increase the minimum wage further over the next few years.

“That’s the appropriate approach to take to that issue,” Malloy said.

Carlos Moreno, communications director for the Connecticut Working Families Party, said they appreciate the governor’s willingness to engage in a conversation about an increase in the minimum wage, but he believes the two concepts go hand-in-hand.

He said they would like to see the state implement a $15 an hour minimum wage, but absent that they still believe larger employers who are paying their employees less than a living wage should be fined.

The legislation targets companies like Walmart, McDonald’s and Dunkin Donuts.

The Working Families Party launched a petition drive to encourage the governor to find a way to lend his support to the issue. They estimate there are 83,000 working poor families in Connecticut.

“These workers are exploited, and the services they then rely on are a strain on our state budgets,” the petition reads.

But Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said increasing the minimum wage is not a solution to the problem.

“At worst, raising the minimum wage will accelerate a spiral of disparity between the economic classes, a loss of jobs, and an increase in costs for low and middle income families. A false economy is not the answer,” Fasano said. “The best way to increase wages is to have a healthy and robust economy where employers will increase wages to find employees.”

Fasano said legislation to fine larger employers who don’t pay their employees at least $15 an hour is a “money grab” by the state.

“How does a Connecticut resident benefit when the money is going into the state coffers? Does anyone believe that the penalty fee going to the state will make its way back to the people making minimum wage?” Fasano asked.

He said it’s just another tax by the state.

A Low Wage Employee Advisory Board was created by the legislature in 2015. The 13-member board just wrapped up a handful of public hearings and its next meeting is on Sept. 14.

The board was created to study and monitor the cause and effect of large businesses paying low wages, the minimum wage, and the amount of benefits the state pays to the working poor.