February 7 marked the beginning of the 2018 legislative session in Connecticut, and a new opportunity to steer our state in the right direction.
To that end, the Connecticut Working Families Organization released its 2018 legislative agenda, a series of concrete and common sense policy recommendations designed to spur economic growth by empowering workers, reducing inequality, and increasing regional competitiveness.
For Connecticut’s economy to grow, we need to create the conditions that make success possible for the vast majority of working class families in our state, just as many of our neighboring states have already done.
Increasing the minimum wage to $15 will help stimulate our economy by putting more money into the hands of workers who spend it – locally. Raising wages gives consumers more spending power, which helps local businesses, pays local rents and mortgages, and makes people financially independent.
By implementing earned paid family and medical leave, families would no longer be forced to choose between tending to a spouse or parent with a medical emergency, or keeping their job and health insurance. At no cost to the state, paid family leave would help keepworkers financially independent.
Employee-funded paid family leave would be good for business, particularly for small businesses struggling to compete with larger corporations. It’s already the law in New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island, making our state less attractive to millennials and young families.
Throughout Connecticut, thousands of low-wage workers, many earning poverty wages, struggle to earn a stable income because of unpredictable work schedules. Employees are often forced to work with little notice, maintain open availability for “on-call” shifts without any guarantee of work, and have shifts cancelled at the last minute.
Our economy and public health suffer when workers cannot predict their hours or pay from day to day, make time for schooling or childcare, secure a second job, or qualify for promotions to full-time employment. New York City has passed legislation to end this practice, and New York State is considering it too.
Almost half of all jobs created since the start of the economic recovery have been in low- wage industries, such as retail and fast food service, which pay less and lack the benefits, predictability, and flexibility of jobs past. This makes our families less economically secure, puts a greater strain on state budgets, and widens racial and ethnic gaps.
Companies like McDonald’s and Wal-Mart employ workers below a living wage, turning them onto state assistance. Our state must end this form of corporate subsidy and pass a Low Wage Employer Fee, so that companies either pay living wages or help fund the programs on which their workers depend.
Our state can prosper by closing corporate- and carried-interest tax loopholes, as well as ending unfair corporate tax incentives. Throwing millions of dollars at a single business to keep 100 employees is not the best use of resources, and hedge fund and private equity managers should pay the same tax rates as ordinary taxpayers. This is money we can better invest in our people.
Connecticut is the wealthiest state in the nation, but also suffers some of the highest income inequality. We can fund a brighter future by asking our wealthiest citizens to pay their fair share, such as how New York accomplishes this with its millionaire tax and how Massachusetts also does with its capital gains tax.
Another crucial step is unlocking the “bond lock.” At a time when Connecticut needs to modernize its crumbling infrastructure and restore funding to its health and education programs, the bond lock ties the state’s hands for a decade.
Today’s young workers are looking for areas with high quality and convenient public transportation systems, and we are losing them and the companies that follow them to nearby states with better funded cities and smarter, more progressive policies.
Our state needs to invest in its cities and in the services young people are seeking. By advancing our infrastructure into the 21st century, we can create quality jobs while making Connecticut a more convenient and attractive place to live.
We must also achieve better funding for public education and college affordability. Next door, New York has already taken a major step ahead by implementing tuition-free college.
Connecticut cannot cut its way to prosperity and cannot compete with race-to-the-bottom tax incentive and subsidy policies. A pro-worker agenda is the way forward for economic growth, and we must hold our elected officials accountable to that.
Carlos Moreno is the State Director of the Connecticut Working Families Organization.