Dan Malloy’s election as governor was a double victory for the Working Families Party: Its cross endorsement was crucial to his narrow win, and Malloy unequivocally supports its top issue, a bill requiring private employers to offer paid sick days.
But the drive to make Connecticut the first state to mandate paid sick time also lost ground on Election Day as Republicans unseated 10 House members and one state senator who have voted for the measure in past sessions.
“It’s going to be a fight,” said Jon Green, the executive director of the Working Families Party.
The issue could be a high-profile, first-year battle for Malloy and the Working Families, a minor party that practices a brand of fusion politics primarily aimed at drawing left-leaning voters to sympathetic Democrats.
Both the House and the Senate have passed versions of a sick-leave bill in recent years, but not during the same session and not by a tally large enough to withstand an anticipated veto by Gov. M. Jodi Rell. Overriding a veto would require 24 votes in the 36-member Senate and 101 in the 151-member House
Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said Malloy’s election changes the math.
“Now, you need 18 votes in the Senate and 76 in the House,” Looney said.
A tie vote of 18 to 18 in the Senate would be broken by the presiding officer, Malloy’s running mate, Nancy Wyman.
Looney said he now believes the Senate also will debate an earned-income tax credit for low-income residents, another idea endorsed by Malloy.
For the first time, the Working Families can lay claim to helping elect a statewide office holder with a cross endorsement that put Malloy’s name on the ballot twice, as a Democrat and a Working Families candidate.
Counting only the votes cast for Malloy on the Democratic line, he lost to Republican Tom Foley by 19,904 votes. But add the 26,308 votes for Malloy on the WFP line, the deficit turned into a 6,404-vote win.
Of course, voters cannot vote more than once for a candidate, but polling shows that the cross-endorsement draws support from voters who might be unwilling to cast a vote on a major-party line.
The Working Families say their cross-endorsements allow voters to cast “a protest vote that counts.”
Two Democrats also won state Senate seats with help from their cross-endorsements.
In the 4th Senatorial District, Steve Cassano of Manchester lost by 923 votes on the Democratic line. With his 996 WFP votes, he was able to eke out a 73-vote win for the seat left open by the retirement of Sen. Mary Anne Handley, D-Manchester.
Without her 1,081 votes from her Working Families cross endorsement, Sen. Edith G. Prague, D-Columbia, lost by 279 votes. As the co-chairwoman of the labor committee, Prague is a key ally for the minor party.
But Green soft-pedals being able to claim his party provided the margin of victory for a new governor.
Ask him what it means that Malloy got so many votes on the WFP line, he replies, “It means Malloy’s the governor, as opposed to someone else.”
The important result on Election Day was that an ally won, not that his margin fell within his Working Families vote total, Green said.
“I don’t mean to be too cute, but let’s not forget,” he said. “That’s what it actually means.”
Malloy was the only major-party candidate to strongly and unequivocally back paid sick days. Others questioned if any mandate on business was wise in a tough economy – especially one not adopted by any other state.
The version of the legislation proposed in Connecticut in 2009 applied only to companies with 50 or more employees.
It would have required up to five paid sick days, based on hours worked. Employees would have accrued one hour of leave for every 40 hours worked.
Companies that already offer paid time off would have been deemed in compliance.
It passed the House, 88 to 58, but it did not come to a vote in the Senate. In 2008, the Senate passed a different version, 20 to 16.
The margins would be tighter in both chambers.
Ten of the 88 House members who voted for the bill lost to Republicans this year, shrinking the ranks of the supporters to 78. With all members in attendance, passage of a bill in the House requires 76 votes.
Green has not performed a new headcount, but at least one Democratic opponent of the bill was succeeded by a more supportive Democrat, off-setting some of the losses, Green said.
In the Senate, two supporters of the bill will not be returning. Thomas Colapietro, D-Bristol, lost his seat to a Republican and Jonathan Harris, D-West Hartford, did not seek re-election.
Harris will be succeeded by Beth Bye, a Democrat who voted against the bill in the House last year and was endorsed by the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, the leading opponent of paid sick days.
A sitting governor can help round up waffling legislators. He also can carry the public-relations debate in a way that individual legislators cannot.
“That helps a lot,” Green said.
Kia Murrell, a lobbyist for the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, said the strongest argument against paid sick days is that it would be a risky move in a bad economy for a state with a reputation for a hostile business climate.
“The economy, that still tells a very compelling story this year, as it did last year,” she said. “A paid sick leave mandate is simply a bad idea right now. The fact it’s been stalled on the federal level is very telling.”
U.S. Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro, D-3rd District, has been unable to advance a federal version. With Republicans about to take over the majority in the U.S. House, the issue is dead in Congress for at least the next two years.
Washington D.C. and San Francisco have municipal ordinances requiring paid sick days. In San Francisco, some business associations report that the requirement has been less burdensome than feared.
But the best argument against the bill in CBIA’s view is that Connecticut would be the first state to require the benefit, an unwanted distinction when the state is trying to improve its business climate.
“This is not the trophy we want to bring home,” Murrell said.