The year’s first hearing on Connecticut’s minimum wage is happening at the state Capitol Thursday afternoon, and the battle lines are unchanged from 2012, with a twist.
Again this year, advocates — led by Connecticut Working Families, which rolled out its coalition before the hearing — are pushing for more than they will get. The main bill calls for the minimum to rise from the current $8.25 an hour to $9, then $9.75 a year later. Then it would be indexed for inflation.
That would catapult Connecticut ahead of Oregon, at $8.95 the state with the highest minimum. As it stands now, just 16 states have pay floors higher than that of the federal government, which is at $7.25 for the fourth straight year.
It’s more likely that the debate at crunch time will come down to more modest raises of 25 cents a year, and even that will be a battle, just like last year when the votes fell short in the state Senate. States are falling over each other to squeeze low-wage workers and pour money into the hands of businesses, and the business lobby won’t let Connecticut lawmakers stand as outliers.
The difference this year is pressure that can’t be resisted any longer. We’ve now had the same minimum for four years, and Massachusetts is into its sixth year at $8. New York and New Jersey, which match the federal level, are also due for increases and the pressure will be great in those states.
So, even if you believe in keeping low-wage workers right where they are, a 25-cent raise would do exactly that because costs are rising.
Economically, it makes sense to raise the minimum to a level that allows people to get by, for obvious reasons. We’re not talking about raising taxes here, so there’s no argument that it would drain the economy.
On the contrary, everyone knows that poor people spend every dollar they have, boosting the economy, while companies have to be begged, bribed and cajoled to invest even if they have huge troves of cash. You can’t blame them, but there comes a time when we have to think about the economy.
There’s no viable argument that raising the minimum creates an onerous burden for businesses. That’s just silliness, disprovable with simple math. The trouble, of course, is that no state can afford to be too far out front on the wage, so economic logic falls flat when we give companies one more little reason to flee, or to not come here.
So it’s a game of chicken. That the hearing came at the same moment when Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was in East Hartford announcing $1.5 billion for science, math and technology at UConn, is a pairing that should be lost on no one. We spend freely to build up crucial strengths in some areas but not others.
What’s needed is a raise in the federal minimum, which would narrow the penalty on Connecticut for doing the right, and smart, thing. And we could end this recurring idiocy by indexing the minimum wage to inflation once and for all.