On a party-line, election-year vote, the House of Representatives voted 88-62 Thursday 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.
Ten Democrats joined all 52 Republicans in opposition, including Rep. William Tong of Stamford, 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 Majority Leader J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, was out of state for a long-planned private business meeting and missed the vote.
To win passage, House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan, D-Meriden, 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.
“Why the dramatic change?” asked Rep. John B. Rigby, R-Winsted.
“It was definitely a negotiation,” replied Rep. Ezequiel Santiago, D-Bridgeport.
Now, the question is whether the negotiations with business groups, which significantly dampened opposition, led to passage of a bill too difficult for Senate Democrats to resist.
Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, said his caucus has made no final decision on taking up the bill, which the House had planned to take up late Wednesday night.
Donovan called off plans for an all-night debate that was to start at midnight after House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, assured him there would be no GOP filibuster if debate was postponed to midday Thursday.
“The minority leader came over and said they would rather come in tomorrow and do the vote then,” Donovan said.
Cafero said he told his caucus, whose questions had extended a debate on medical marijuana for seven hours to 11:16 p.m., the option was to assure Donovan of a “reasonable debate” on Thursday or stay the night.
A reasonable debate turned out to be about 3 hours, 30 minutes.
From the first question posed by Rigby, the ranking Republican on the Labor and Public Employees Committee, the GOP minority characterized the minimum-wage increase Thursday as a political gesture in a campaign year.
“To sell the bill, they are saying it’s not a big deal. It’s only $10 a week,” Cafero said. “If it’s only $10 a week, if it’s not a big deal, then why are they doing it?”
Donovan first proposed increasing the $8.25 hourly minimum to $9 this July and to $9.75 a year later. In addition, his bill would have automatically pegged future annual increases to the consumer price index.
The indexing became the major target of opposition by the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, the state’s largest business group, and by the restaurant industry. More than a modest increase this year, it feared a string of automatic increases in the future.
“Indexing is the dragon to us, a fire-breathing dragon at that,” said Kia Murrell, an associate general counsel at CBIA.
The restaurant industry sought and received an increase in the tip credit, which allowed restaurants to reduce the minimum wager to reflect tips. The credit is 31 percent, offsetting $2.56 of the current wage. It would increase to 31.76 percent and 33 percent over the next two years.
The net result, according to an industry representative, will be that a server minimum wage will go up by 24 cents to $6.04 and a bartender minimum will go up by 45 cents to $7.79.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Senate Democrats and even legislators in Donovan’s own caucus reacted coolly to the speaker’s push for a wage increase this year, pointing to a fragile recovery and the passage last year of the nation’s first state law mandating paid sick days by some private employers.
The legislature set the current minimum wage in 2008, when it overrode Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s veto in an election year. The 2008 bill increased the wage from $7.65 to $8, effective Jan. 1, 2009, and to the present $8.25 a year later.
Republicans said even a small increase would discourage the creation of more low-wage jobs.
“Think about the guy who cuts your neighbor’s lawn,” said Rep. Sean J. Williams, R-Watertown, who predicted youth employment this summer would plummet as businesses eliminate jobs to cover the minimum wage hike. “Think about the small guys. This bill doesn’t help them.”
“No wonder kids are fleeing this state as they graduate,” added Rep. Pamela Sawyer, R-Bolton. “I want more jobs in this state, not only for the youth.”
Santiago, the vice chairman of the labor committee, said the increase will help the working poor without straining business.
But mainly, Democrats, who knew they had the votes for passage, let the Republicans talk.
Democrats: 78 yes, 10 no, 1 absent. Republicans: 0 yes, 52 no, 0 absent.
Democrats voting no: Michelle L. Cook of Torrington, Timothy Larson of East Hartford, Chris Lyddy of Newtown, Frank Nicastro of Bristol, Elaine O’Brien of Suffield, Lonnie Reed of Branford, William Tong of Stamford, Patricia Widlitz of Guilford.
Democrats absent: J. Brendan Sharkey of Hamden.
Keith M. Phaneuf contributed to this report.
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