On a bipartisan vote, the state Senate approved a highly promoted economic-development bill Friday, legislation designated by the Democratic majority leadership as Senate Bill 1 to signal job creation as a political priority in 2012.
But action on the bill comes as the Senate wrestles with whether to pass or ignore the off-message priority of House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan, D-Meriden: a bill raising the $8.25 minimum wage to the applause of labor and distress of business.
Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, said Donovan’s original bill calling for a 75-cent increase this summer and again next July could not pass the Senate.
He said he wouldn’t have a hard vote count until early next week on the compromise passed Thursday by the House: a 25-cent increase in each of the next two years, starting Jan. 1, 2013.
“Obviously, it’s moving in a direction where it may be more palatable,” Williams said.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said he would sign the bill.
The jobs bill passed Friday on a 32-2 vote and sent to the House expands economic development programs, provides incentives to hire veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, promotes tourism and rewards companies bringing jobs from overseas.
The two dissenting votes were cast by Republicans Joseph Markley of Southington and Robert Kane of Watertown.
It is a follow-up to bipartisan legislation passed in a special session on jobs last fall and an acknowledgement that this fall’s campaigns are certain to revolve around jobs and the state’s fragile post-recession economy.
“That is still the number one issue on the minds of men and women and families all across this state,” Williams said in a press conference prior to the debate. “That’s why Senate Bill number one is all about creating jobs and improving our economy.”
The sentiment extended across the aisle.
“This is making progress on something that is very important,” said Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield.
McKinney described getting a flat tire fixed at a family-owned shop, where the owner complained to him about the dysfunction of political institutions in Hartford and Washington.
“I think we send not only the right message in terms of a policy, but we send the message we can have a little bit of faith and a little bit of trust,” McKinney said.
The bill expands two initiatives of the October jobs session, the Small Business Express Program and STEP, the Subsidized Training and Employment Program, to companies with as many as 100 employees. They had been limited to companies with 50 workers.
STEP offers subsidies of as much as $2,500 a month to cover the training of new workers. Small Business Express offers loans and grants. Both programs have been a success, legislators said.
The new bill also provides subsidies to businesses that hire veterans.
In many years, S.B. 1 is meant to convey the policy or political priority of the Senate leadership, though it does not always guarantee passage.
In 1994, when Senate President Pro Tem John B. Larson, D-East Hartford, was gearing up for a gubernatorial campaign, he designated “An Act Concerning Crime in Connecticut” as S.B. 1.
It was referred to the Judiciary Committee and disappeared.
Since Williams became the top leader of the Senate, jobs legislation was designated as S.B. 1 in three of the four election years.
In 2006, S.B. 1 was “An Act Concerning Jobs for the 21st Century.” In 2010, it was “An Act Concerning the Preservation and Creation of Jobs in Connecticut.” This year, the title is “An Act Concerning Jobs and the Economy.”
The outlier was 2008, when S.B. 1 tackled another popular election-year topic. It was “An Act Concerning an Emergency Relief Plan for Connecticut Families Through Tax Reductions.”
Williams said the three S.B. 1 jobs bills are a reflection that economic growth cannot be taken for granted.