HARTFORD, CT—He wouldn’t handicap the chances of the General Assembly approving an increase in the minimum wage this year, but Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said he wouldn’t give up the fight because “it’s the right thing to do.”
“Raising a sufficient minimum wage in the state is not at all a luxury,” Looney said. “It is not a mere convenience. It is critically important for thousands upon thousands of Connecticut families.”
Last month, Connecticut’s minimum wage increased to $10.10 an hour, but advocates and labor unions have been pushing for $15 an hour.
However, the composition of lawmakers in the House and the Senate isn’t exactly favorable to passage. With a split Senate and a House where the majority of Democrats is so small that all it would take is four votes to defeat a measure, it won’t be easy to get a controversial proposal like a minimum wage hike across the finish line.
“There’s always a challenge, but I’ve been here long enough to know you keep fighting until you get across the finish line,” Looney said.
Leadership in the House is also keeping an open mind about the proposal.
“There is clearly significant support for moving on an increase this session, and we will know in the next few months if that translates into the votes needed to pass the full legislature,” House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said.
A spokeswoman for Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy wouldn’t say exactly whether the governor would support the proposal, but sent a supportive statement.
“Governor Malloy is supportive of predictable, incremental, and consistent increases in the minimum wage,” Meg Green, a spokeswoman for Malloy, said.
Looney said Thursday’s public hearing is the first chance to hear about the proposal, which would phase in an increase so that it reaches $15 an hour in 2022 and then is indexed to inflation in the future.
He said indexing future increases “is a pragmatic way to reach out to those who have had doubts in the past about supporting the legislation.”
At a Capitol press conference Thursday, advocates said the gradual increase to $15 an hour minimum wage would allow Connecticut to keep pace with other states and cities throughout the nation. New York state has already passed legislation to incrementally raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022 in most parts of the state. California and Washington D.C. have also enacted gradual increases to $15 an hour.
The Connecticut Low-Wage Employer Advisory Board reported in December 2016 that at least 20 percent of Connecticut’s workforce or 336,000 workers currently earn less than $15 an hour.
The typical minimum wage worker in Connecticut is a woman in her 30s with children.
“For parents trying to make ends meet. For single parents working two or three jobs, just to provide basic necessities for their children there may be no more important issue than earning a fair and adequate wage,” Looney said.
A report from Connecticut Voices for Children found that since 2001, the share of private-sector jobs in low-wage industries in Connecticut has increased by 20 percent, while the share of private-sector jobs in high-wage industries has decreased by 13 percent. In addition, 44 percent of private sector growth since 2010 has been in low-wage industries.
But business organizations like the National Federation of Independent Business say increasing the minimum wage will deter employers from hiring additional people and will scare off those considering opening up shop in Connecticut.
“Our economic reality is that the small business community would be crushed by an increase of that magnitude and the very people that proponents of this measure claim to seek to protect would be unemployed if it were ever to become law,” National Federation of Independent Business Connecticut State Director Andrew Markowski said.
The Connecticut Business and Industry Association is also opposed to a minimum wage hike. It pointed out that over the past eight months Connecticut has lost 13,000 jobs and that increasing the cost of doing business is not going to help.
“It’s critical that lawmakers refrain from enacting legislation that makes the cost of hiring more expensive,” Eric Gjede, counsel for the Connecticut Business and Industry, said.
Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven, said an increase in the minimum wage will help keep these workers from being subsidized by the government. She said many of the workers end up being subsidized for food stamps and Medicaid.
Porter said her constituents are “hoping and praying” this is the year the state approves another minimum wage increase.
“It’s common sense legislation,” Porter said.
She said it’s not fair to the taxpayers of Connecticut that they have to subsidize large, profitable corporations that don’t pay their employees a living wage.