Capitol Connection: Making Connecticut Affordable for Everyone

September 4, 2014

This past Labor Day gave us all an opportunity to reflect on and celebrate the history and value of the American worker. Labor Day is also a holiday during which a lot of political rhetoric about employment and wages emerges. And unfortunately, many of the claims I heard over the weekend here in Connecticut miss the bigger labor issues at play.

For example, I read one op-ed this week from Representative Peter Tercyak, the chair of the legislature’s Labor Committee, which I saw as particularly out of touch.

His article, published by the CT Mirror, touted his support for a bill that would fine large companies and franchises if they do not pay their employees at least 130 percent of the minimum wage. He also argued that Connecticut’s new minimum wage of $10.10 per hour still wasn’t good enough – despite it being one of the highest wage increases in the entire country. He cited a new report by the Alliance for a Just Society which claims that a living wage for a single adult in Connecticut is about $19 an hour, and that jumps to $29 an hour for a single parent with a school-age child.

That logic, and those numbers, scare me. And they should scare you too.

I strongly support making Connecticut a more affordable place to live, work and raise a family. I think our families face too many burdens that make it extremely difficult to afford everyday expenses. But I can tell you that forcing employers to raise the minimum wage right now is not the way to help. And fining them for refusing to pay more than the minimum wage sends the wrong message. I can also tell you that a $19-$29 minimum wage will without a doubt force countless businesses to close up shop, hurting the workers they employ.

Sure, it would be great to have a $100 an hour minimum wage if we could. But how can we expect employers, who are struggling to maintain – let alone grow – their businesses, pay for yet another huge increase? If wages go up, something else has got to give to keep businesses afloat. Some businesses may have to cut jobs so they can afford to pay their staff. Some may increase prices on their goods and services so they can stay in business. That means more issues for all families across the state.

The real way to help make Connecticut more affordable is to eliminate the burdens on families and create an environment where jobs can flourish.

Connecticut is currently ranked #1 in annual tax burden by the Tax Foundation – a problem that drags both families and employers down. If we give businesses the tools they need to grow and thrive, more jobs with higher wages will be created and better opportunities for workers will develop in a sustainable manner.

I applaud the people who work hard every day for hourly wages. I spent a lifetime supporting my family on hourly wages and I understand the need for fair pay. But I also understand that employers work hard and deal with many pressures as well.

The best way to help workers is to relieve the burdens that all Connecticut residents face. The reason why that study identified such a high “living wage” of $19 an hour is because of the many high expenses Connecticut families face every day. Instead of slapping a band aid on the problem, we should be working to identify the root cause and improve Connecticut overall. Strengthening our economy, reducing burdens and lowering taxes paves the path to success, and the path to better opportunities for workers everywhere.