House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said today he will back Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s call for increasing the $8.25 minimum wage to $9 over the next two years.
“I think I am in line with where the governor is, frankly. It is always a balancing act to recognize the needs of workers, while also trying to stimulate an economy,” Sharkey said. “I think the governor’s approach strikes the right balance.”
After expressing support last month for raising the federal minimum wage to $9, Malloy is ready to endorse bringing the state minimum to that mark.
“This is just good public policy,” Malloy told Capitol reporters Friday following the monthly State Bond Commission meeting in the Legislative Office Building, calling it “one of the best ways to get children out of poverty.”
Statewide, nearly 90,000 people earn minimum wage, which includes full-time, part-time and seasonal workers, reports the state Department of Labor.
The governor dismissed the argument that a modest increase in the minimum wage would excessively burden businesses and eliminate many jobs. The average person earning minimum wage earns $300 per week, while “the people making those kinds of statements make substantially more,” he added. “It is time to move on.”
But a spokeswoman for approximately 600 restaurants and other businesses that support restaurants disagreed.
“Restaurants are still in a struggling economy,” Nicole Griffin, executive director of the Connecticut Restaurant Association, said afterward, adding that a wage hike now would make things worse. “Some are just coming out of it.”
Malloy has briefed legislative leaders on his intentions, but the Senate Democratic majority has not committed to passage. Its leadership blocked an election-year vote on the minimum wage last year in an awkward intra-party showdown with the now-departed House speaker, Christopher Donovan.
Senate Democrats are expected to take up the issue in caucus as early as next week, but Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, could not be reached for comment. In January, Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, testified at a public hearing in support of the wage increase blocked by his caucus last year.
This year, leaders of the state’s labor unions area hopeful the bill will make it through the Senate.
“I am confident of it getting to the governor,” said Lori Pelletier, a leader of Connecticut AFL-CIO, the state’s largest labor organization. “The biggest issue will be the time frame [legislators] have to pass it.”
The legislative session ends in five weeks.
Looney has not claimed broader support, and Malloy and the new House speaker, Sharkey, have been noncommittal up until now.
“I am skeptical right now about the timing,” Sharkey said at the beginning of the session in January. “I’ll keep an open mind about it. I’d rather allow the committee process to play itself out, and I want to see what the Senate wants to do about it.”
Today, Sharkey said he was ready to back an increase.
“I’ve been talking to a lot of folks over the last few months about it. I’ve reached the conclusion it is appropriate to consider a modest increase over the next two years,” Sharkey said.
Malloy last year waited to come out in support of an increase until after the House had approved the bill and it was determined that the Senate did not have the votes to get the bill to his desk.
With a weak economy and elements of the business community still raw over passage in 2011 of the first state law mandating paid sick days, the Democratic legislative leadership had not been enthused about raising the state’s $8.25 minimum wage.
It took a hard push by Donovan to win passage in the House on a party-line vote last year, even as Senate leaders made clear they would not take a vote.
This year, the minimum-wage increase is a Senate bill, meaning the House would debate the measure only after passage by the Senate. The Labor and Public Employees Committee approved and sent the bill to the Senate in late February on a party-line vote.
The state’s hourly minimum wage has been $8.25 since Jan. 1, 2010. The labor committee bill would increase it by $1.50 over two years, with a bump to $9 in July 2013 and to $9.75 in July 2014. It also would index future increases to inflation.
Sharon Palmer, the governor’s labor commissioner and former union leader, said that raising the minimum wage by 75 cents translates to only $30 more for someone working 40 hours a week, or a $360 paycheck.
“For God’s sake, it’s $360 a week. How far can that go?” she said, dismissing opposition to increasing the minimum wage.
The minimum wage seldom rises or falls on the merits. It is usually a question of timing: Do legislators feel they need more to make a gesture to business or labor?
The governor’s office has repeatedly made the same point as Senate Democrats: It already has delivered for low-wage families.
“Since taking office,” Malloy spokesman Andrew Doba said, “the governor has signed legislation enacting both a historic state-based Earned Income Tax Credit and paid sick leave — two proposals that will provide a tremendous lift for working families.”
The governor signed a state EITC equal to 30 percent of the federal credit into law back in 2011 — one of the highest rates among any state in the nation. But Malloy proposed in February reducing that rate next year to 25 percent.