Foley’s support of minimum wage comes with caveats

Tom Foley introduces urban policy recommendations of the Connecticut Policy Institute. Watching it the group's executive director, Ben Zimmer.

Tom Foley introduces urban policy recommendations of the Connecticut Policy Institute. Watching is the group's executive director, Ben Zimmer.

On the minimum wage, Republican Tom Foley is more comfortable standing with President Obama than Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, the Democrat he hopes to unseat this fall.

Foley generally endorses the president’s call for raising the $7.25 federal minimum wage, saying Obama’s proposal of reaching $10.10 by 2016 “doesn’t sound unreasonable to me.”

But the front-runner for the GOP gubernatorial nomination distanced himself Friday from the governor’s proposal to raise the $8.70 state minimum to $10.10 by January 2017.

And he offered a series of significant caveats about raising the minimum, saying he would consider exempting small businesses that cannot afford to pay higher wages, as well as some entry-level jobs.

“I think we need to be careful about having a minimum wage in Connecticut that’s higher than other states, because that drives jobs out of the state,” Foley said.

Foley suggested there was no serious plan to raise the state minimum, saying, “I don’t think anybody’s proposing that.”

He seemed unaware that a state legislative committee had approved and sent a $10.10 minimum wage bill to the Senate floor on Tuesday, the day before Obama’s visit here promoting a higher federal minimum. With the support of Malloy and legislative leaders, it is expected to pass.

Foley spoke to reporters after the Connecticut Policy Institute, a think tank he founded after narrowly losing the race for governor in 2010, released a set of papers on urban policy.

Democrats sent a video tracker to record Foley, and a spokesman for the state Democratic Party, James Hallinan, said Foley now was opposing an increase in the state minimum in the state minimum wage.

“That’s what it sounded like to me,” Hallinan said.

In an interview with The Mirror, Foley clarified that his preference for Congress to set a uniform standard does not mean he opposes raising the state minimum.

“I support a $10.10 minimum wage for certain jobs,” Foley said. “I would support that in Connecticut, too, but you have to be careful about this, because people complain already that our current minimum wage, because it’s higher than the national one, it’s driving jobs away.”

Foley said he was not ready to define a standard for exempting jobs from the state or federal minimum, but he opposes an across-the-board raise.

“If I was governor, I’d be encouraging the legislature to have a multi-tier state minimum wage that offered a minimum wage in that range to people who are working for large corporations, who can afford it,” Foley said.

He offered no definition of large corporation or an affordability standard. Without saying how, Foley said he also would like a minimum wage increase narrowed so that it goes to workers who “have to support families on that, and who aren’t going to lose their jobs as a result.”

Foley kicked off the Connecticut Policy Institute event, but he declined to say how much of its urban policy recommendations would become part of his campaign.

“I think it’s a very good start on putting some things on the table, but I think there’s a further dialogue that needs to occur,” Foley said. “We need to talk to the people in these communities. We need to talk to business leaders about whether these solutions will work, and which of them will work and make the most sense.”

The think tank’s report focused on Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven and Waterbury, four of the state’s five largest cities. Each has a poverty rate above 20 percent, a child poverty rate above 35 percent and an unemployment rate above 12 percent. Bridgeport, Hartford and New Haven have some of the highest crime rates among cities with populations of less than 200,000.

Read the entire report here.

The report covered economic development, crime, housing policy and education.

It recommended making urban tax breaks available to more employers. Select urban areas should be exempt from municipal regulations, applying instead a model code administered by the state. Tweed or Sikorsky airports should be expanded to provide more convenient air service into Bridgeport and New Haven.

It endorsed a number of new technologies to combat crime, including “remote gun detection technology,” and suggested a program of “swift, certain and short” punishment for parole violators.

It called for removing regulatory barriers to private investment in low-income neighborhoods.

On education, the report recommended a reading exam for third graders, a regents-style exam to graduate from high school and an easing of restrictions on charter schools and an expansion of school choice programs.

“I think in terms of my campaign and developing an urban policy agenda of my own, this is a good framework to start from,” Foley said. “But we’ll be picking and choosing from these after we get feedback from people in the communities.”

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