The House of Representatives on Thursday approved a bill to raise the minimum wage in each of the next two years, but lowered the increase to 25 cents each year. At the same time, lawmakers stripped from the bill a proposal to tie future increases to the consumer price index.
The measure passed, 88-62, over objections from Republican lawmakers who denounced the measure as anti-business.
The bill now goes to the Senate, where its fate is uncertain. A spokesman for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Thursday that the governor would sign the bill if it gets to his desk.
During the course of the 3 1/2-hour debate preceding Thursday’s vote, supporters argued that the proposed increase of 25 cents in 2013 and 25 cents the following year would help low-wage workers while stimulating the economy.
“We’re doing the right thing today,” said Rep. Ezequiel Santiago, D-Bridgeport, vice chairman of the legislature’s labor committee , moments before the vote.
The proposal, driven largely by House Speaker Chris Donovan, a Democrat from Meriden who is running for Congress, was initially far more sweeping. It would have raised the state’s $8.25 hourly minimum wage by 75 cents in each of the next two years, then tied the wage to the consumer price index.
A legislative committee trimmed the proposed hike to 50 cents over the two years but even that was deemed unpassable and the increase was cut further by an amendment this morning.
“We did propose a higher minimum wage initially,” Santiago said. “But it was through negotiations with the business community … that we determined that raising it by 25 cents in 2013 and by another 25 cents in 2014 basically would not have a detrimental effect on the business community yet could provide a stimulus for our economy.”
But Rep. John Rigby, R-Colebrook, said the modest increase won’t do much to help the 106,000 Connecticut workers who earn minimum wage; nor would it provide much stimulus to the economy, he said.
Yet, Rigby said, a hike in the minimum wage would sharply impact small businesses already struggling with the lingering effects of an economic downturn. “There [are] deep flaws in this bill,” he said.
In an effort to derail the bill, Republicans offered a few amendments, including one that would freeze the minimum wage at its current level and repeal a new state law mandating companies of 50 or more workers provide paid sick leave to their employees. All the amendments failed.
Supporters of raising the minimum wage say it is big corporations, not locally owned mom-and-pop shops, that benefit most from a low minimum wage.
Rep. Sean Williams, R-Watertown, disagreed. It is small business owners, not “the nameless, faceless Wal-Marts,” who will be hurt by the wage increase., he said.
“Forget about the big guys who are supposedly making these record profits,” Williams said. “Look at the small businesses in your communities … the deli that you go into, the diner that you into, the guy that might cut your neighbor’s lawn. This bill effects them. And it doesn’t help the people it purports to help.”
Republican critics also said this is not the right time for any expensive new mandates on businesses. Raising the minimum wage would only reinforce the perception that state lawmakers are out of touch and reinforce what they say is the state’s reputation as a place that’s hostile to business.
“We already have the fourth highest minimum wage,” said Rep. Gail Laveille, R-Wilton. “We have very high health insurance costs … we imposed paid sick leave … we’ve already dumped a lot on the business owners we are purporting to help. And now we’re going to ask them to pay more to employees they may no longer .. .be able to [afford] to hire. This, ladies and gentlemen, is not any way to make this state friendly and open for business.”
Forty-seven states have set the minimum wage at a rate lower than Connecticut’s $8.25 an hour; only Washington, Oregon and Vermont have higher minimum wages. The federal standard is $7.25 an hour.