Min­i­mum wage talk a pre­view of de­bate brew­ing in leg­is­la­ture

Busi­ness lead­ers, law­mak­ers dis­cuss im­pact of rais­ing $10.10 floor

Hartford Courant - - Connecticut - By Don Sta­com dsta­[email protected]

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.

DON STA­COM/HARTFORD COURANT

State Rep. Whit Betts, R-Bris­tol, talks with Bris­tol busi­ness lead­ers about the prospects for a $15 min­i­mum wage in Connecticut.

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