Senator Frantz: Minimum Wage Hike Is “Another Tax On Employment” [Hartford Courant]

April 30, 2013

Article as it appeared in the Hartford Courant on April 27, 2013

Malloy Claims Middle Ground With Support For 75-Cent Minimum Wage Hike

By Jenny Wilson

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Friday pushed to raise the state minimum wage by 75 cents over the next two years, backing a measure that steps back from a proposal in the legislature but still lacks the support of the business lobby.

“I believe that we can get to $9 in two years, an increase that will make it just a little easier for working people in our state without adversely impacting the businesses,” Malloy said at a press conference. The governor’s office estimates that out of a Connecticut workforce of 1.7 million people, there are 75,000 to 90,000 workers who earn the minimum wage, currently set at $8.25.

Malloy framed his proposal as a compromise. The measure increases the hourly rate for Connecticut’s minimum wage workers but by a more modest amount than the bill that has cleared the labor committee. That proposal, which is in the state Senate, would raise the minimum wage to $9.75 over the next two years and then base future increases on the Consumer Price Index, which measures the cost of living.

The governor, however, said he did not support indexing the minimum wage to inflation.

“I am not backing a bill that would get us to $9.50 and I am not backing a bill that would get the automatic CPI, so I think I’ve taken a reasonable position,” said Malloy.

Joseph F. Brennan, a spokesman from Connecticut Business and Industry Association, said that while his group continues to oppose raising the minimum wage, the governor’s proposal is “at least better than what came out of the labor committee.”

House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey of Hamden, a Democrat who earlier this year expressed concerns that raising the minimum wage could harm small businesses, added his support to Malloy’s proposal Friday.

“It is important to find the right balance between helping people and protecting our economy, and I think the governor’s proposal meets that balance,” he said in a statement.

Malloy, explaining his decision to support the increase now, said: “Some of our neighboring states have already started to move towards $9. The president, too, has advanced and advocated for that change and I believe that it’s the right time for Connecticut to move in that direction as well.”

But House Republican leader Larry Cafero of Norwalk said Malloy’s decision to announce his support was a re-election tactic and accused the governor of “a complete 180” on the issue.

Cafero said the proposal would hurt businesses at a time when the economy is still in recovery and described the move as “purely political … to endear himself to those that are proponents of the minimum wage increase.”

The General Assembly last passed a minimum wage hike in 2008, which, in 2010, brought Connecticut’s hourly wage to its current level. Last year, a measure to raise the minimum wage passed the House but did not come to a vote in the Senate.

Some opponents say the increase would slow hiring and could cost low-income workers their jobs if businesses, forced to pay their employees more, found they could not afford to pay as many of them.

“I talk to small business owners all the time about how they are struggling to hire employees and really invest in their businesses,” said Rep. Sean Williams, R-Watertown, who is on the labor committee. “The people that this purports to help the most, this will hurt the most. … There’s people all over the state who will be laid off, who aren’t going to be able to find employment because of this,” he said.

“It’s the last thing in the world we need,” said Sen. L. Scott Frantz, a Republican from Greenwich. “In essence, it’s another tax on employment, it’s another tax on commerce.”

Meanwhile, pro-labor Democrats hope that a measure more expansive than the governor’s proposal can pass the General Assembly.

“We’re still trying to assess to see if we have support to pass what the labor committee passed, and if not we’re going to figure out if there’s somewhere in the middle that we can get to,” said Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, Senate chairman of the labor committee.

Both Osten and Williams said they believed a minimum wage increase could pass the General Assembly. Cafero acknowledged the majority Democrats hold but said his entire caucus and some House Democrats would oppose the measure.

“It’s not going to pass without a fight,” he said.