Op-Ed: Don’t mandate workers’ wages, make their lives affordable

The cost of living in Connecticut is out of control.

Thanks to excessive government spending, the highest tax increase in state history and a slow to recover job market, countless individuals cannot afford to feed their families, drive to work or pay for other basic necessities.

Op-ed submit bugWhen faced with such a severe economic crisis, there’s no question in my mind that relief lies in reducing the burdens that impact families — not in increasing the burdens on Connecticut employers.

Unfortunately, not everyone agrees with this common sense logic.

This week, Rep. Peter Tercyak told CT Mirror readers that Connecticut should “Tax the big businesses that won’t pay Connecticut workers a living wage.”  He touted his support for a bill that would fine large companies and franchises if they do not pay their employees at least 130 percent of the minimum wage.

He also argued that Connecticut’s new minimum wage of $10.10 per hour still wasn’t good enough – despite it being one of the highest wage increases in the entire country. He cited a new report by the Alliance for a Just Society which claims that a living wage for a single adult in Connecticut is about $19 an hour, and that jumps to $29 an hour for a single parent with a school-age child.

That logic, and those numbers, scare me. And they should scare you too.

I strongly support making Connecticut a more affordable place to live, work and raise a family. Our families face too many burdens that make it extremely difficult to afford everyday expenses. But I can tell you that forcing employers to raise the minimum wage right now is not the way to help. And fining them for refusing to pay more than the minimum wage is not only ridiculous, it also sends a chilling message that Connecticut is not open for business.

A $19-$29 minimum wage would without a doubt force countless businesses to close up shop, hurting the workers they employ.

Sure, it would be great to have a $100 an hour minimum wage if we could. But how can we expect employers, who are struggling to maintain — let alone grow — their businesses, pay for yet another huge increase?

If wages go up, something else has got to give to keep businesses afloat. Some businesses may have to cut jobs so they can afford to pay their staff. Some may increase prices on their goods and services so they can stay in business. If prices go up, there will be a new need to again increase the minimum wage. And where will this cycle end?

Instead of forcing employers to pay an unsustainable and unrealistic minimum wage, why not work to reduce the cost of living in our state? Why not work to eliminate taxes, make gas and energy prices more affordable, and cut out government waste?

The particular “tax big businesses” bill that Rep. Tercyak said he strongly supported was actually killed in committee this year – meaning legislators from both sides of the aisle did not support bringing this bill up for a vote in the House or Senate.

If this bill was passed into law, it would have punished businesses for paying the minimum wage approved by the legislature this year. It also would have not only applied to individual businesses with over 500 workers, but also to franchises with more than 500 workers throughout the state.

That means your local Dunkin Donuts, Stop and Shop or Ace Hardware would also be subject to pay higher minimum wages.

Both Republicans and Democrats opposed this bill, so why are we revisiting it now?

The real way to help make Connecticut more affordable is to reduce family burdens and create an environment where jobs can flourish. Connecticut is currently ranked No. 1 in annual tax burden by the Tax Foundation – a problem that drags both families and employers down.

If we give businesses the tools they need to grow and thrive, more jobs with higher wages will be created and better opportunities for workers will develop in a sustainable manner.

I applaud the people who work hard every day for hourly wages. I spent a lifetime supporting my family on hourly wages and I understand the need for fair pay. But I also understand that employers work hard and deal with many pressures as well.

Instead of using a bucket to bail out the sinking boat, I say fix the boat. We should not be mandating an unrealistic minimum wage; we should be addressing the root cause of families’ struggles.

Strengthening our economy, reducing burdens and lowering taxes paves the path to success, and the path to better opportunities for families everywhere.

Sen. Kevin Witkos represents the 8th District towns of Avon, Barkhamsted, Canton, Colebrook, Granby, Hartland, Harwinton, New Hartford, Norfolk, Simsbury and Torrington. He is available on Twitter @SenatorWitkos and on www.Facebook.com/senatorwitkos.

 

 

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