Raising the State Minimum Wage: Governor, Speaker on Board; Business Group Opposed; Senate President Uncommitted

This year’s proposal to raise the state’s minimum wage is getting mixed reviews for sure. Gov. Malloy supports an increase as does Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey. The Connecticut Business and Industry Association (CBIA) opposes it. Senate President Don Williams is noncommittal.

Malloy made some political waves by announcing Friday that he supports an increase. He said he’d like to see the wage increase from the current $8.25 to $9 over two years. Sharkey agrees.

A bill that has come out of the legislature’s labor committee is more aggressive. It would raise the wage by $1.50 over two years (up to $9 in July and $9.75 in July 2014).

CBIA Vice President of Public Policy Joe Brennan tells The Hanging Shad his group, the largest, most representative business organization in the state, is against any increase in minimum wage, particularly now. “We opposed the bill when it was in [the labor] committee. Many of our members don’t pay minimum wage but some do. Those are usually restaurants and retail outlets. Those groups are leading the charge against an increase.” Brennan added now is not the time to further burden businesses given the still-struggling economy. He speculated that some senators won’t support an increase in the wage after passing the controversial paid sick leave legislation which businesses claim has hurt them.

Brennan added that while CBIA is opposed to any increase, the governor’s proposal is better than the labor committee bill. “One, it’s less of an increase than the committee bill; and two, it’s not tied to the consumer price index,” he said. Tying increases to the CPI would mean automatic increases in the wage going forward.

NOTE: I know this is inside legislative baseball but politically speaking, supporters of a higher minimum wage might not want it tied to the CPI. They’d be better off having a debate every year—it’s smart politics.

Where the Senate comes down on this one is the key question. Last year, when then-Speaker Chris Donovan was pushing an increase, there simply weren’t the votes in the Senate Democrats caucus to pass the bill. Therefore, it was never brought out for a vote.

 

Senate President Don Williams (my former boss) told me during last year’s debate that the caucus has supported increases in the minimum wage in the past but only when economic times were good.

When I asked for comment on the possibility of supporting the current effort, Williams spokesman Adam Joseph said, “Senator Williams has supported increases in the minimum wage in past and will take the current bill to the caucus.” When I pressed for the senator’s personal position (not the caucus position), Joseph said, “Senator Williams has supported an increase in the minimum wage in the past and will when it makes sense to do it.”[Shad emphasis] Mark that down as, “I’m on the fence and it hurts.”

The truth is, while Williams didn’t actively oppose Donovan’s bill last year, he didn’t support it either, nor did many a good number of other Democratic senators, enough to kill the bill. That leaves the state Senate holding the keys to the minimum wage vault. Stay tuned.