After a clash on the merits, the legislature\’s budget-writing committee Monday approved hiking the state\’s minimum wage to $10.10 by 2017.
The vote was 24 to 17 along party lines with state Sen. Joan Hartley abstaining. Hartley, a conservative Democrat from Waterbury, has broken with her party and voted with the Republicans in recent years on controversial issues. Last year, Hartley voted against hiking the wage to the current level of $8.70 per hour.
Barring any last-minute snags, both the state Senate and the House of Representatives are expected to vote on the minimum wage hike Wednesday.
In a strong defense of the increase, Rep. Toni Walker, the committee’s co-chairwoman, said those currently earning $8.70 per hour and working 40 hours per week collect less than $350 weekly. The federal poverty level, she noted, for a single mother with two children is $18,096 per year. She said that lawmakers have an obligation of helping workers and “making sure they earn a fair share for what they do’’ in their jobs.
“Who do we represent?’’ Walker asked her fellow committee members. “Who are we here to fight for? We are here for all people of Connecticut, not just a select few.’’
But Republicans rejected the hike as bad for small businesses and bad for job growth.
Sen. Rob Kane, the ranking Senate Republican on the committee, said that hiking the wage would boomerrang and hurt small businesses like the retail store that he owns that sells cellular phones in Waterbury.
“The policy we are setting here today … is more and more government intervention in the lives of people we represent,’’ Kane said. “I’m a small business owner, and next month, God willing, I will be in business 20 years.’’
“When people like the governor and others say Connecticut is open for business, it’s a claim we’re trying to do everything we can to be pro-business in the state of Connecticut,’’ Kane said. “The way we do that is lower regulations, lower taxes in the state of Connecticut. This bill – and those we have done for the last four or five years – is in direct opposition to that. It is the small business that will be hurt. … Let’s think about the little guys like my business.’’
Citing statistics from the White House, Kane said the vast majority of businesses in the country have 50 or fewer employees.
Kane argued that hiking the wage would push the total wage base up and cause prices to be driven higher. But Democrats at the state and national levels have argued that raising the minimum wage is a good idea because the workers would then have more money to spend in retail stores.
But Kane said it is not easy being a small business owner “when you lie awake in the middle of the night, thinking about how you’re going to make payroll.’’
Concerning the Democratic argument, he said, “It doesn’t make sense. This whole idea about helping people – it’s false. You’re actually going to do more harm than good.’’
Rep. Craig Miner, a Litchfield Republican who serves as the committee’s ranking House Republican, asked whether the increased cost of the bill would be put into the state budget for home-care providers and other workers who toil for private, non-profit providers that receive payments under contracts with the state.
“Show me the money,’’ Miner said to the committee. “Where is the money that the state puts into the budget?’’
Sen. Beth Bye, a West Hartford Democrat who co-chairs the committee, responded that the legislature’s nonpartisan fiscal office reports there will be minimal impact on the state budget.
With elections being held this fall, the minimum wage has become a high-profile issue nationally. Earlier this month, President Barack Obama came to New Britain to tout the proposal.
In Connecticut, the latest statewide poll shows that raising the wage is highly popular. By a margin of nearly 3 to 1, voters overwhelmingly back raising the wage, according to a poll of registered voters by Quinnipiac University.
The poll showed a sharp divide among various groups on the wage, which Democrats have been pushing as a major issue in this fall\’s elections. While 93 percent of Democrats polled in Connecticut support hiking the rate, with 6 percent opposed, a majority of Republicans — 53 percent — oppose an increase, with 41 percent in favor.
Women strongly favored the hike, 78 percent to 18 percent, and the highest support came from both men and women in the 18-to-29 age bracket.
Only about 5 percent of all workers nationally earn the minimum wage, but the White House says that raising the rate would have a spillover effect that would help those who earn slightly more than the minimum wage. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office issued a report last month that said hiking the wage could cost as many as 500,000 jobs.
Among those who support the increase in Connecticut, 42 percent of those polled by Quinnipiac also support raising it to $10.10 an hour — the level sought by both Obama and Malloy. Twenty percent of those who support an increase told pollsters that the wage should be even higher than $10.10 per hour.
The poll of 1,878 registered voters, taken between Feb. 26 and March 2, had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.3 percentage points. The calls covered voters who use both cellphones and landlines.