This week, state Democrats introduced a proposal that would raise the minimum wage by $1.50 over the next two years.
On Tuesday, Speaker of the House Chris Donovan of Meriden introduced legislation that would raise the minimum wage by $0.75 each year for the next two years, bringing it to $9.00 per hour this year and $9.75 per hour by the end of 2013. Other Democratic lawmakers signed on to Donovan’s plan, which also pegs future raises in the minimum wage to changes in the Consumer Price Index. State Rep. Roland Lemar, who represents New Haven, said that he is a “strong supporter” of the plan, which he called “responsible, rational, and good public policy.”
“I know a lot of my constituents are forced to take whatever job they can get, and often times that’s a minimum-wage job,” said Lemar, who represented East Rock’s Ward 9 on the New Haven Board of Aldermen until fall 2010. “They deserve not to live in poverty when they’re working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year.”
Lemar added that the proposal would ensure that the state’s lowest wage earners can keep up with inflation.
Gov. Dannel Malloy, who in the past six months has signed legislation enacting a state-based earned income tax credit and paid sick leave — two proposals aimed at improving living conditions for middle- and low-income families — has been supportive of increases in the minimum wage in the past. But with the state still undergoing a protracted economic recovery, Malloy indicated he thought now might not be the best time to change the minimum wage.
“While [Malloy] certainly supports the ideals behind this legislation, we must be mindful of the needs of businesses, especially given the current economic climate,” Malloy spokesman Andrew Doba said in a Tuesday statement.
At its current minimum wage of $8.25, Connecticut is tied for the fourth-highest minimum wage, behind Washington, Oregon and Vermont. Opponents of the hike such as Andrew Markowski of the National Federation of Independent Business, an association representing small and independent businesses in the U.S., have argued that raising Connecticut’s minimum wage while nearby states still have minimum wages much lower — the minimum wage is $7.25 in New York and New Jersey — would hurt job-seekers by pushing new businesses elsewhere and reducing the incentive of employers to hire new workers.
But Lemar said pegging changes in the minimum wage to inflation would actually help businesses by allowing for predictable changes in the minimum wage from year to year, instead of legislature-driven “jumps” every few years. While Lemar said he understood that many of the state’s businesses are struggling, he said he is confident that businesses can handle small increases in wage growth based on his observations over the past two years.
Increasing the wages of lower-wage workers, Lemar said, would help the economy in its own way by injecting money into cities across the state.
“People who make minimum wage spend those dollars in their communities at a greater rate than anyone else,” said Lemar. “It’s ultimately going to end up helping workers and businesses across the board.”
While she said she did not know how an increase in the minimum wage might affect New Haven businesses, City Hall spokeswoman Elizabeth Benton ’04 said the change would not have any effect on city employees due to New Haven’s living wage ordinance, an expansion of which was sponsored by former Ward 1 Alderman Mike Jones ’11 and passed last summer. The city’s living wage ordinance sets a higher standard than Connecticut’s minimum wage, establishing the minimum wage the city must pay its employees and the employees of major city contractors at $14.67 per hour.
The living wage ordinance, Benton said, “affirms the city’s belief” that city workers should be paid above the poverty level. The proposed state minimum wage law, Lemar said, would help all of New Haven’s minimum wage workers who do not fall under the city’s living wage ordinance.
“The minimum wage reaches far more workers citywide [than the living wage] — it’s a solid first step that we need to take,” Lemar said. “Ideally, we’d be in a position to create a living wage guarantee for all of our residents.”
Lemar said supporters of the minimum wage plan have a “strong fight” ahead of them. But he also said he expects to see more and more advocates come out in support of the plan, which will be brought before the legislature during this year’s legislative session beginning on Feb. 8.
The federal minimum wage has been set to $7.25 per hour since 2009 .