Minimum wage talk a preview of debate brewing in legislature
Business leaders, lawmakers discuss impact of raising $10.10 floor
BRISTOL – Business leaders at a forum this week made their case against a higher minimum wage, warning that it would reduce employment and speed the trend toward automation.
But veteran state Rep. Mike Demicco, D-Farmington, made clear that the campaign to boost Connecticut’s $10.10-an-hour minimum wage has plenty of popular support.
“We have a large wage disparity in Connecticut,” Demicco said at the Central Connecticut Chambers of Connecticut legislative roundtable session on Tuesday. “A higher minimum wage means less employee turnover, and it means more money in people’s pockets.”
Even opponents acknowledged that the $10.10 rate probably won’t survive the next legislative session.
“I have serious reservations about it … but the chances of it passing are pretty high,” Rep. Whit Betts, R-Bristol, said during the discussion hosted by Bristol Hospital. “I think it’s one of the first issues the majority will take up.”
The talk amounted to a preview of the debate that is expected at the General Assembly when the new session gets underway next month. Democrats gained seats in the state House and Senate in the November election, while Republicans lost ground, and leaders of the Democrats’ progressive caucus have pledged to push for an eventual increase in the minimum wage to $15 a hour.
Sen. Henri Martin, R-Bristol, said food distributors in his district have told him they plan to invest in automation if too much of their payroll approaches $20 an hour. When Connecticut raises the base wage in the state, workers all the way up the line will look for increases, he said.
“Those making $15 now will be getting $17, $18,” Martin said.
“It’s going to inhibit the ability of Lake Compounce to hire [seasonal] people,” warned Betts, who advised business owners to press legislators to fight the raise. “This is based on an argument to help people afford to live in Connecticut. The minimum wage was never intended to
be a living standard — you’d have to be paid $25 an hour for that.”
But Demicco, the only Democrat to speak, disagreed.
“There are people who need to live on minimum-wage jobs. It’s not only for high school kids or people who are looking to make pocket money,” Demicco said.
Wages in bottom-rung jobs don’t provide the same buying power as in the 1970s or ’80s, he said.
“If wages go up, prices go up,” countered local attorney Tim Furey, who said his law firm would have to consider reducing staff if lawmakers impose too many additional costs next year. “And, at $15, Dunkin Donuts’ model doesn’t work.”
When the new year begins, nine states will have minimum wages above Connecticut’s: Arizona, California, Colorado, Maine, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.
At least five states have multiyear plans to phase in raises that will result in a $15 minimum. At the other end of the spectrum, the federal minimum of $7.25 hourly prevails in 22 states: Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Indi- ana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Okla- homa, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
State Rep. Whit Betts, R-Bristol, talks with Bristol business leaders about the prospects for a $15 minimum wage in Connecticut.