Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo
Rep. Robyn Porter (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo)

HARTFORD, CT — At 10 p.m. Wednesday the House began debate on a bill that would increase Connecticut’s minimum wage to $15 an hour and raise the wages of 332,000 workers in the state. The bill passed 85 to 59 after noon Thursday and is headed to the Senate.

The 14-hour debate showed just how deeply divided Democrats and Republicans are over economic policy, and also over what an increase in the minimum wage might do for Connecticut’s efforts to recover all the jobs it lost in 2008.

According to Democrats, the minimum wage hike will put more money back into the economy through an increase in disposable spending by low-income employees, but Republicans believe businesses will decrease hours, lay off workers, increase prices on consumers, and favor automation.

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The bill will raise the minimum wage over 4.5 years and then index it to the employment cost index (ECI). The current minimum wage of $10.10 an hour will increase to $11 in October, $12 on Sept. 1, 2020, $13 on Aug. 1, 2021, $14 on July 1, 2022, and then $15 on June 1, 2023.

The bill will also create a training wage for 16- and 17-year-olds, which will be 85 percent of the minimum wage for up to 90 days. After that the rate will go up to the minimum wage.

The bill was a compromise “to make sure this is a bill that all can be comfortable with,” Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven, said.

“This is personal for me,” Porter said, adding that she has “constituents in my district and friends throughout this state who struggle working two or three jobs to make ends meet.”

Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, said the bill was also personal for him too because it impacts him as an employer.

“It’s probably the scariest piece of legislation that I’ve seen in the 13 years that I’ve served in this chamber,” Candelora said.

He said he’s going to have to lay off some of his full-time employees to employ his part-time workers, who are mostly young and entry level. He said if the legislation becomes law there won’t be jobs for 16- and 17-year-olds.

“Our employees become part of our family,” Candelora said.

Rep. Anthony D’Amelio, R-Waterbury, who owns a restaurant, said he doesn’t have the money to automate some of his services like larger companies. He said he was speaking with the owner of Nardelli’s, a small Connecticut sandwich chain, who will have to automate because they can’t afford the increase.

He said they can’t charge $18 for a sandwich to be able to afford an increase in the minimum wage of this magnitude.

“You can’t get money out of a stone. When the money’s not there, it’s just not there,” D’Amelia said.

D’Amelia said workers will “be replaced with robots.” In fact, it’s already happening, “You go to Stop and Shop you got a robot going up and down the aisle and then you’ve go to the check out and you have to do it yourself.”

Gov. Ned Lamont applauded passage of the bill.

“If our economy doesn’t work for everyone, then it doesn’t work. It’s that simple,” Lamont said. “I’m doing everything possible to engage the business community so they can grow here, relocate or stay and hire Connecticut residents who represent the top workforce in the country. In order to grow, we need policies that protect our workforce and the small businesses who need them.”

But proponents of the increase in the minimum wage didn’t get everything they wanted.

Porter was disappointed she was unable to negotiate an increase in the tip credit that servers and bartenders are paid. The legislation decouples the tip credit from the minimum wage and freezes it at $6.38 for servers and $8.23 for bartenders.

The Connecticut Restaurant Association lobbied hard to maintain the current tip credit and against misconceptions about the restaurant business.

“We’re pleased that the legislature listened to us,” Scott Dolch, executive director of the Connecticut Restaurant Association, said. “At the same time, 4.5 years is better than 3, but I still have concerns about how it’s going to impact the industry.”

Porter said the Democratic caucus didn’t have the “political will” to increase the tip credit. It was an argument Porter lost.

“Business doesn’t make money unless they have workers who are doing the job,” Porter said.

The bill was given to Republicans in the House around 9:45 p.m. after Democrats in the Senate and Gov. Ned Lamont’s office had finished negotiating it.

House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said she was not involved in the negotiations over the bill so she was unable to promise Democrats that her side would limit debate.

“That means they were playing politics with what’s in the best interest of the state of Connecticut and that’s a very sad day for me,” Klarides said.

She said there’s no denying that “Connecticut is a terrible state to do business in. We are the last state to come back for jobs, and people are moving out of here in droves.”

Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo
Rep. Joe Polletta (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo)

Rep. Joe Polletta, R-Watertown, said the minimum wage is a starting point, but it’s not living wage.

“We are not lifting anyone out of poverty at $15 an hour,” Polletta said.

However, what concerned him the most was the decision to index the minimum wage in 2024 to the Employee Cost Index.

“The fact that we sit here — that we are elected by our constituents to make decisions on their behalf — and our hands are tied forever,” Polletta said. “How irresponsible is it for us to vote for something that ties the hands of this body.”

He said it’s also an unfunded mandate for municipalities who might hire youth during the summer. Porter countered that it actually saves towns about $1,500 per youth worker because the wage will be lower than the minimum wage for those seasonal employees.

However, the minimum wage will increase costs to municipalities that employ minimum wage workers, according to the Office of Fiscal Analysis report. Depending on the size of the municipality the increase could be anywhere between $50,000 for smaller towns like Torrington to $1 million to Bridgeport.

The fiscal impact of the minimum wage would continue into the future as the minimum wage is adjusted annually.

The legislation will increase state contracts $1.2 million in FY 20, $3.9 million in FY 21, $7.9 million in FY 22, and $17.3 million in FY 23.

The amendment could also result in increased costs of $1.1 million in FY 20, $2.9 million in FY 21, $4.7 million in FY 22, and $6.6 million in FY 23 in association with the Family Child Care Provider collective bargaining agreement, if the current provisions of the contract are maintained.

The legislation does not exempt nursing home workers from the increase in the minimum wage. The nursing home workers voted again Wednesday to authorize a strike, setting a walk out date of June 3.

The nursing home workers had called off a strike earlier this month when it looked as if the Medicaid budget would be increased by $23 million a year. That money would be used for wage increases.

House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said they heard a bunch of stats and statistics from Republicans during the debate that they had no opportunity to verify.

He said they do know that the state is down 14,000 positions since 2008, which is a huge loss of jobs in the public sector.

House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said for such dire predictions on the economy in the state of Connecticut the revenues grew $300 million in 2020 and $425 million in growth in revenue in 2021 “because of what I think is a healthy economy here in Connecticut.”

As far as the length of the debate, Aresimowicz said the death penalty was eight hours in 2012. It was actually nine hours, but still shorter than the debate on the minimum wage.

The debate on paid sick leave in 2011 was 11 hours.