Senate Democrats blocking minimum wage increase

The state Senate’s Democratic majority is at least four votes shy of passing a compromise minimum-wage increase approved last week by the House of Representatives, leaving one of the House speaker’s key bills on life support in the annual session’s final seven days.

Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, said he texted House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan, D-Meriden, from the Democratic caucus room Tuesday, telling him he did not see a path toward passing a 25-cent increase in the $8.25 hourly wage.

“Barring some significant turnaround, we have a significant number of folks who would not support the minimum-wage bill as it is,” Williams said.


Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr.

He declined to give a hard vote count but acknowledged being at least four votes short. Democrats hold 22 of the 36 seats in the Senate. Democrats routinely support raising the minimum wage, but many in both chambers balked at an increase with the economy still fragile.

“It was the timing,” Williams said. “They felt the economic times were not right. They supported minimum wage increases in the past. They strongly supported the earned-income tax credit last year, which provided a boost to low-income workers.”

Donovan said Tuesday night he has not given up on passage.

“We need to work harder to get more support. That’s my reaction,” Donovan said.

On a party-line, election-year vote, the House of Representatives voted 88-62 last week for a compromise to raise the $8.25 minimum wage by 25 cents in each of the next two years, bringing pressure on a reluctant Senate to follow.

Donovan submitted the bill to a vote without a commitment from the Senate to take up the bill, a calculated risk.

His own caucus was lukewarm on an increase this year, but he lost only 10 Democrats, including Rep. William Tong of Stamford, then a candidate for U.S. Senate, and Rep. Timothy Larson of East Hartford, the brother of U.S. Rep. John B. Larson, a Democratic congressional leader.

House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, said he was surprised that the House speaker would tie up the House for a day without knowing if the Senate had the votes for passage.

“I’m appalled. I mean, come on man,” Cafero said. “By the way, I’m probably not as angry as many Democratic legislators are. They were so uncomfortable to make that vote. They only did it with the assurance it would pass the House, the Senate and be signed by the governor.”

Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said he expected that proponents will bring “all kinds of pressure” on Senate Democrats to reconsider.

“I’m not going to hold my breath until midnight May 9,” he said, a reference to the constitutional adjournment deadline for the 2012 session.

Donovan said he believes that some senators did not understand changes in the bill that lessened the impact on the restaurant industry.

“So, we’re passing on that information,” he said.

To win passage, Donovan, a congressional candidate presiding over his last annual session, accepted a two-thirds reduction in his original proposal, abandoned an automatic cost-of-living provision and delayed implementation from July to January.

But Williams said even the changes were not enough to win support in the Senate.

The setback for Donovan is a potential complication in the session’s last week, when House and Senate leaders routinely hold each other’s bills hostage until favored legislation is passed.

Donovan said he has not threatened to hold Senate bills hostage.

“Not at all,” he said.