The state House of Representatives, after more than five hours of debate Wednesday night, approved raising the minimum wage by 75 cents over two years – a controversial move that caused sharp clashes between Republicans and Democrats.
The increase was approved by 89 to 53 on a mostly party line vote. Three fiscally conservative Democrats – John Hampton of Simsbury, Jeffrey Berger of Waterbury, and Tim Larson of East Hartford – joined with the House Republicans against the bill.
State Rep. Peter Tercyak, a New Britain Democrat who introduced the bill on the House floor, said that about 10 percent of all workers in Connecticut earn the minimum wage, including many women.
He said the money would spread quickly through the economy as workers need the extra money to pay their bills.
\”It\’s all going to be spent,\’\’ Tercyak said, noting that a person working 40 hours per week at the current minimum wage of $8.25 per hour earns $17,160 per year. \”Every penny earned will be spent. That\’s what happens with minimum wage.\’\’
The bill, which was approved last week by the state Senate, calls for an increase of 45 cents per hour in January 2014 and then another 30 cents per hour in January 2015.
A longtime union supporter, Tercyak noted that businesses have often opposed raising the minimum wage in the past.
\”There\’s an organization called CBIA. It has something to do with business,\’\’ Tercyak said.
But Republicans immediately countered that raising the minimum wage would boomerang and hurt the economy by cutting jobs. If small businesses were forced to pay higher wages to their workers, they said, some business owners would decide to lay off workers instead. A Republican said he was told by the manager at Lake Compounce that fewer workers would be hired in the future if the minimum wage is increased.
State Rep. Pam Sawyer, a Bolton Republican, noted that state legislators also have not had a raise in a decade.
After the vote, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said once again that he will sign the bill.
State Republican leader Larry Cafero of Norwalk, who has been in the legislature for 20 years, said he thinks he has debated the bill 10 times – ever since the minimum wage was about $6 per hour.
In the past, Cafero voted in favor of raising the minimum wage in good economic times. The minimum wage is often paid at small businesses, including plumbing supply shops, hardware stores, barber shops, bodegas, and beauty salons, he said.
\”Frankly, for the past seven years, small businesses are hurting,\’\’ said Cafero, who opposes the bill this year.
In his first job at the age of 15, Cafero said, he earned minimum wage at a deli, where he stacked cans on the shelves.
Statewide, 73 percent of the businesses have nine or less employees, he said.
\”Despite all the rhetoric, it is hard to find someone who is raising a family on the minimum wage for an extended period of time,\’\’ Cafero told his House colleagues.
\”I\’m looking for the little guy. Why? Because the little guy is the guy who employs people at the minimum wage,\’\’ Cafero said.
Various Republican amendments were rejected during the debate, which started at about 5:45 p.m. Wednesday and lasted more than four hours.
Rep. Anthony D\’Amelio, a Republican who owns and operates a restaurant in Waterbury, said it has been a struggle in his business since the recession hit hard in 2008. He said he could not serve in the state legislature without the help of his hardworking employees.
In the restaurant business, he said he cannot control his rising food costs, but he can control his wages. He said he could not raise his menu prices because that could drive customers away. With 102 applications on hand, mainly from high school and college students, D\’Amelio said he has no openings at his restaurant.
\”In this economy, going out to eat is a luxury,\’\’ he said. \”It\’s not because you don\’t want to give your employees more money. It\’s because you don\’t have any more money to give. … This bill, as well intentioned as it is, will cost jobs. … I\’m living this reality.\’\’
Nationally, only 2.1 percent of workers over the age of 16 earns the minimum wage, said Rep. David Rutigliano, a Trumbull Republican who is a small business owner. Republicans said that 2.9 percent of the workers in Connecticut earn the minimum wage, but Democrats said that total was much higher.
Rep. Richard Smith, a New Fairfield attorney who serves as the ranking member on the labor committee, listed a series of surveys in which Connecticut ranked poorly for business climate. Connecticut ranked 45th in the nation for doing business in one survey, as well as ranking second-worst in the nation for income growth. Another study placed Connecticut as 45th-worst for minimum wage, and another said the state has the third-highest labor costs for farms in the country, he said.
At the same time, Connecticut routinely ranks at the top in the United States for per capita income, fueled largely by high-income individuals in Fairfield County. The county is the home to numerous hedge funds and billionaires, who help pay a huge amount of income and sales taxes in the richest state in the nation.
Echoing a phrase often used by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy that Connecticut is open for business, Smith asked, \”Does this open business for Connecticut?\’\’
He noted that the Council of Small Towns has opposed the hike because wages would increase in those towns.
In the same way, Rep. Prasad Srinivasan said that Connecticut was not open for business.
Tercyak countered that the top problem for many businesses is weak sales, rather than growth in wages. In addition, farm costs are often double in Connecticut when compared to Vermont.
\”It\’s foolish to say that every problem in farming we\’re going to have this year\’\’ is related to the minimum wage, Tercyak said.
Rep. Henry Genga, an East Hartford Democrat, said there was \”no discernable effect on low-wage workers due to modest increases in the minimum wage. I believe this is the right thing to do, and the facts show that.\’\’
Further information is available at www.minimumwage.com