Plan to raise state's minimum wage in jeopardy
Updated 11:36 am, Thursday, May 3, 2012
HARTFORD -- The legislation that would raise the state's minimum wage by 50 cents to $8.75 by January of 2014 has stalled amid Democratic opposition in the state Senate.
Sources say that seven of the 22-member majority raised their hands against the bill after a brief caucus on the issue Wednesday.
Party privacy rules require details of discussions that occur behind the closed-doors of the caucus to remain there.
But if the roadblock remains during the waning days of the session, it could derail one of the major legislative goals of Speaker of the House Christopher G. Donovan.
Donovan on Wednesday was not giving up on the legislation, which passed the House last week 88-62, stressing that he just needs to pick up "a couple votes" in the Senate for the bill to pass.
"I think there's a lack of information up in the Senate, so we're having people talk to the senators some more," Donovan said during an interview Wednesday morning in the near-empty House chamber. "There's been some discussion," he said. "Some senators have indicated they're willing to talk, so if I could pick up a couple votes we should be OK."
Donovan cited last week's Quinnipiac University Poll that indicated 70 percent of state voters favor raising the $8.25-per-hour minimum wage. "That's a huge number," Donovan said. "We don't usually see numbers like that. During an election year sometimes people worry, but we have to remember the lowest-wage workers and we have to bring them up as well."
Sen. Gayle S. Slossberg, D-Milford, said during an interview Wednesday that it's a thorny subject.
"Look, this is a tough issue," she said. "Both sides of this debate have valid points. I think it was the overwhelming sense of the Senate Democratic caucus that given the tough economics that we have in our state and given some legislation that's already passed, this is just not the time to raise the minimum wage."
Last year, the General Assembly approved legislation that was signed into law requiring paid sick leave for full-time employees. The law has been cited as being a strain on businesses.
"I really think this was a pretty strong position for the members of the caucus," Slossberg said. "This wasn't even close."
Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, who recently voted for the legislation in the Appropriations Committee, agreed that there was major opposition to the bill in the caucus, which has an eight-member advantage on minority Republicans.
"I think there's a lot of concern about voting for the minimum wage, though 25 cents an hour is not a lot," Duff said. "It adds about $10 extra a week to the average person who makes minimum wage. But in this climate I know that there are folks who want to support the minimum wage but feel that maybe this is not the year to do so."
Under the current bill, the wage for the state's lowest-paid workers would rise to $8.50 next January 1 and to $8.75 a year later.
Duff and some other senators declined to detail their positions in the caucus, citing party privacy.
"They're still caucusing," said Sen. Joseph J. Crisco, Jr., D-Woodbridge, who said he wasn't sure on the details of the current bill, but was keeping an open mind. "I guess leadership is still talking about it," Crisco said.
Donovan's original bill would have hiked the minimum wage to $9.75 by January of 2014 and linked annual raises thereafter to the consumer price index. The full wage hike and indexing were dropped, however, during compromise negotiations that led to the House vote.
About 106,000 workers in Connecticut would benefit by an extra $1,000 a year under the current bill.
Sen. Edwin A. Gomes, D-Bridgeport, a retired union official for steelworkers, said the lowest-paid state residents need the money to survive and put the money right back into their local economies for food, clothing and rent.
"Every time the minimum wage comes up they should address it," said Gomes in an interview. "I can't imagine people not raising the minimum wage every time they get a chance because it's nothing but poverty-level earnings anyhow. How the heck does anybody get along on eight dollars and a quarter? I have a lot of people suffering in Bridgeport because of that."
Gomes said he's disappointed that the Senate may not bring the bill to the floor for debate and disagreed with business interests lobbying against the legislation that claim higher pay would force business owners to dip into their savings to stay afloat.
"My people don't have savings," Gomes countered. "And they're the best consumers in the world because at minimum wage, as small as it is, they spend it, they don't save it. They spend it trying to support their families."