House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, flanked by Bob Duff and Matt Ritter, the Senate and House majority leaders, and Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney.
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, flanked by Bob Duff and Matt Ritter, the Senate and House majority leaders, and Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney.

House and Senate Democrats topped their legislative agenda Monday with pledges to adopt paid family and medical leave and a $15-per-hour state minimum wage.

And while House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, insisted his caucus remained open to discussing mandatory school regionalization proposals offered by Senate Democrats, the issue was conspicuously absent from the joint agenda.

Democrats, who hold majorities in both chambers, also pledged joint support for more affordable prescription drugs, greater investment in manufacturing job training and clean energy initiatives, and a state constitutional amendment to permit early voting.

“These are important quality of life and vital economic policies for our state,” said Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven. “The proposals outlined here will build upon the critical policy work we have accomplished in past years and will respond to the priorities of the people of our state.”

“Helping to improve the lives of Connecticut’s working families is a priority for our caucuses,” Aresimowicz added. “This is a time of opportunity for our state and this legislature has a great combination of new faces to go along with the experience necessary to make positive change.”

Workers would be guaranteed up to 12 weeks per year of paid leave to care for an ill family member, and could not be dismissed for taking leave. The benefit would be equal to 100 percent of their pay — up to a maximum of $1,000 per week.

Paid family and medical leave would be financed exclusively through a new payroll deduction on all workers in Connecticut, said Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven, co-chairwoman of the Labor and Public Employees Committee.

Though details still are being negotiated, Porter estimated workers would be charged one-half of 1 percent of their pay to fund the family and medical leave system.

The benefit would not be available to workers for the first year after enactment, Porter added, to allow the state to amass sufficient funds to cover benefits.

Critics have argued paid family and medical leave will prove too inflexible for many businesses, who cannot afford to leave a post vacant for 12 weeks.

The other linchpin of the Democrats’ joint agenda is a gradual increase in the state’s $10.10-per-hour minimum wage up to $15 per hour. It is not clear how long the phase-in period would be.

“Sure, you can survive on less than minimum wage now,” Aresimowicz said. “But you need to take advantage of many of the state programs to do that.”

Gov. Ned Lamont, who campaigned on many of these issues, offered an early endorsement of his fellow Democrats’ agenda.

“These are all policies and ideas the Governor supports,” Lamont spokeswoman Maribel La Luz said. “He looks forward to working together with the legislature on the specifics to make sure they work best for the people and businesses of Connecticut.”

“These legislative proposals will build a stronger, more prosperous Connecticut for the middle class and our families,” said Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk.

But Republican legislative leaders argued some key elements of the Democrats’ agenda would do just the opposite.

“We did hear about yet another tax,” said Rep. Jason Perillo, R-Shelton, referring to the new payroll deduction all Connecticut workers will face to pay for the family and medical leave benefit. “ … It’s just another burden on middle-class families and people who are working hard every day.”

Perillo and others have questioned whether raising the minimum wage, establishing paid family and medical leave, and other ideas under consideration — such as establishing tolls — would have a cumulative, chilling effect on Connecticut’s business climate.

“We need to be very careful not to pass policies which could obliterate our current economic momentum,” said Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven. “We are in a fragile situation now. Every economist is predicting a recession is right around the corner. … An onslaught of economic wrecking-ball legislation would put Connecticut into free-fall.”

Absent from the joint agenda were two proposals offered by Senate Democratic leaders to mandate regionalization of small school districts.

One bill, introduced by Looney, would require communities with populations of less than 40,000 to consolidate with another school district.

A second measure, offered by Duff and by Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, would direct any district with fewer than 2,000 students to merge with at least one more so that the expanded district’s student population exceeds 2,000. If a community did not wish to do so, it would have to explain its hardship in writing to the state Department of Education.

Aresimowicz thanked Looney and his colleagues for sparking debate about this issue and said House Democrats remain open to discussing the topic, even if there is no consensus on it now.

“Just because conversations are difficult to have does not mean we shouldn’t have them,” the speaker said. “I actually appreciate Senator Looney putting forward that bill to make us have those conversations. I’m not saying it’s the absolute right answer. I don’t know that we’ll have the votes tomorrow for that. But we need to start having these discussions.”

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Keith M. PhaneufState Budget Reporter

Keith has spent most of his 31 years as a reporter specializing in state government finances, analyzing such topics as income tax equity, waste in government and the complex funding systems behind Connecticut’s transportation and social services networks. He has been the state finances reporter at CT Mirror since it launched in 2010. Prior to joining CT Mirror Keith was State Capitol bureau chief for The Journal Inquirer of Manchester, a reporter for the Day of New London, and a former contributing writer to The New York Times. Keith is a graduate of and a former journalism instructor at the University of Connecticut.

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11 Comments

  1. No one should be surprised that once Democrats controlled all levers of power in Hartford they would enact more social engineering bills that increase taxes and add costs to workers and businesses. These proposals will undoubtedly drive business investment and more people out of the state. Combining these proposals with more taxes and no spending cuts to the budget will only accelerate Connecticut’s fiscal death spiral.

  2. Has the democrats asked what happened when Washington state and California did this same thing? Didn’t seem to work out very well. Oh well, we in CT get to see what CT’s future is, California or Washington East.

  3. The gap between the cost to employ and take home wages continues to grow. Ironic that the democrats who yammer on about stagnent wages are the ones keeping them low as employers struggle keeping up with rising healthcare due to ACA, workmans comp insurance, SJW trainings, and new taxes such as this.

  4. I know as a recently downsized/retired IT person I have monitored the job market in Conn and many IT support jobs (requiring IT certifications like Cisco CNA or Network +-not pHD but some decent skills ) pay $20 /hr or less. What happens to those jobs when McDonalds is at $15.

  5. So the Democrats will say its only a 1/2% more in what we take out of your paycheck – So now they tell me that I have to pay for everyone in the state of Connecticut to take 12 weeks of sick leave – well this proposal makes me sick – I need 12 weeks off from work so I can plan my escape from this socialist state.

    1. Once they realize that .5% isn’t enough, you know it will rise rather than scaling back or ending the program. Then, they’ll go to the businesses and tell them they must kick in X%. However, they won’t tell the companies how to cover for someone, say, taking 12 weeks of maternity leave. Will they have to high someone temporarily (at $15/hr) or force others to cover the hours with overtime, or will they just have to hurt their businesses by being understaffed?

      The other side of the coin is–what happens if the ‘fund’ more than covers outlays that year? Will they protect that money or will it go to the General Fund to cover something else, as it always seems to do in CT.

      I can sympathize with someone who legitimately ‘needs’ something like this but it, as with every other program, is tailor-made for abuse. We went through a situation years ago but we had made sure we had a small cushion for emergencies but mostly we just prioritized things and dealt with it….and then busted our tails to get things back to normal

  6. CT Democrats have long had problems mastering college freshman economics. Mandating a $15 minimum wage in a failing State with both stagnant employment levels and economy for the past decade while the nation’s economy has been especially robust sends a clarion call to major business and savvy residents alike.

    No wonder Gov. Lamont has not yet announced his “plan” for CT’s economic “recovery”. With endorsement of a $15 minimum wage who would take the “plan” seriously. CT’s Legislators need tour depressed sections of our major cities and ask their residents whether they seek “jobs” or “$15 minimums. Odds are pretty good they’ll say they seek jobs.

    CT Democrats best not read the voluminous economic literature on whether posting minimum wages in depressed local areas boosts either the local economy or employment.
    They won’t like the results. But this is CT where economics always takes a back seat to “sound public policy”.

  7. In theory, a person in the state could draw $12,000 in exchange for a ‘contribution’ of $260 ($1000/week maximum for $5/week minimum payroll deduction)—EACH YEAR. Talk about wealth re-distribution.

    This is just one more ‘they’ll never notice it’ tax on the workers of the State….like the $12 per person insured per homeowner’s policy to pay for crumbling foundations…like the $10 car registration for State parks…and so many more. They’re always ‘sold’ with the ‘for mere pennies per day’ spiel.

  8. Democrats are responding to a decade long economic and jobs stagnation together with billion dollar State budget deficits with an exciting new policy – advocating a $15 minimum wage and free medical care for all.

    Democrats leading CT to a new era.

  9. I would ask, before we go down this road, how does this effect the small business owners in our State and what message does it send to those businesses large and small that may be considering setting up shop in Connecticut. Let’s not forget that bringing jobs and revitalizing our economy is job number one.

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