House sends minimum wage hike to Malloy’s desk

The state House of Representatives sent a measure boosting Connecticut’s minimum wage by 45 cents to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s desk Wednesday evening.

The Democrat-controlled House passed the bill 89-53 in a vote largely along party lines. The Senate, where Democrats also hold a majority, adopted the bill last week.

The measure, which raises the minimum wage to $8.70 per hour on Jan. 1, 2014, and to $9 in 2015, had been negotiated with Malloy’s office, and the Democratic governor is expected to sign it.

Though the first increase would arrive at the start of the next state election year, the five-hour and 40-minute House debate centered on economic impacts of boosting the wage 75 cents over two years.

Democrats insisted it would give Connecticut’s poorest workers -- as well as the economy -- a much-needed boost, since most minimum wage earners must spend all they make just to subsist.

Republicans countered that the Nutmeg State is dominated by small businesses, most of which still are struggling to recover from the last recession. They predicted the hike only would prompt these businesses to shed jobs.

“The economy’s doing pretty well, but not for the folks at the bottom,” said Rep. Peter Tercyak, D-New Britain, co-chairman of the Labor and Public Employees Committee.

A minimum-wage earner working 40 hours per week currently makes $17,160 per year, and Tercyak said the increase would bump that annual pay by $936 next year.

And all of that money, he predicted, would be pumped back into the economy. The state’s working poor struggle to make ends meet and likely will spend that increase on basic necessities, rather than saving any of it, he said.

“The money is going to be spent again and again,” Tercyak added.

But House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero predicted another scenario.

“Mom and pop” variety stores, hardware stores, small insurance companies and law firms, and many of the other small businesses statewide will deal with the added labor cost by cutting jobs.

“We are a state of small businesses,” Cafero said, adding that 73 percent of Connecticut businesses employ nine or fewer workers and are sensitive to new expenses like an increased minimum wage. “Small businesses are hurting. They are closing their doors in record numbers.”

Rep. Richard Smith of New Fairfield, the ranking House Republican on the Labor committee, said Connecticut’s overall job market since 1990 shows a net loss.

“If that doesn’t tell us we’re doing something wrong, I don’t know what does, but we continue to pile onto our businesses over and over and over and over,” he said.

Once the full 75-cent hike is implemented, Connecticut’s wage would compete with Vermont’s for New England's highest minimum. Vermont's wage is now $8.60, but it automatically rises every January to keep pace with inflation.

“Are we looking to reduce jobs today?” Smith asked, arguing high energy and labor costs are the chief obstacles to job growth here.

But Tercyak challenged that assertion. “It’s sales that grow businesses,” he said, “not low wages.”

“This is a reasonable and overdue increase in the minimum wage that will help thousands of Connecticut families," said House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden. "We must always be mindful of the economic realities facing working families and a fair minimum wage is a critical part of that equation. This legislation strikes the right balance between helping people and jump-starting our economy.”

Rep. Henry Genga, D-East Hartford, said some studies show that boosting the minimum wage helps reduce worker turnover and leads to greater worker efficiency at some businesses. "I think this is the right thing to do and I think the facts show that," he said.

A full-time minimum-wage earner's annual salary falls $2,000 below the federal poverty limit for a family with two children. And Democrats noted they held off on a minimum wage hike in 2011 and 2012 -– despite pressure from labor unions -– to give businesses more time to recover.

Connecticut has regained about one-third of the 120,000 jobs it lost in the last recession.

No Republicans voted for the bill on Wednesday. Of the 92 Democrats who were present for the vote, 89 supported the increase. Reps. John Hampton of Simsbury, Tim Larson of East Hartford and Jeffrey Berger of Waterbury were the only Democrats to oppose the minimum wage hike.