HARTFORD - Connecticut's Democratic-controlled House voted Thursday to incrementally increase the state's minimum hourly wage to $15 by 2023, following an overnight debate that highlighted a stark disagreement over whether the state is fiscally sound enough for such a change.
Weary legislators advanced the bill to the state Senate, also controlled by Democrats, in an 85-59 vote that saw one Democrat joining the Republicans in opposition. The tally came shortly after noon on Thursday, roughly 14 hours after the debate began.
New Haven Rep. Robyn Porter, the Democratic House chairwoman of the General Assembly's Labor Committee, closed out the marathon session, which at times was contentious. Porter, who stood for much of the night answering questions about the bill, said the $15 an hour may not be a living wage in Connecticut, but it's a “step forward” for people who struggle like she once did as a divorced mother of two, working two and three jobs to make ends meet.
“I'm here to tell you when you are broke and you don't have two nickels to rub together, somebody hands you $10 — $10 — it feels like a hundred,” she said. “Been there. I'm speaking from experience.”
Under the bill, Connecticut's current $10.10 hourly rate would climb to $11.25 in 2020; $12.50 in 2021; $13.75 in 2022; and $15 in 2023. Future minimum wage increases would be tied to the federal employment cost index.
Connecticut last raised its minimum wage over a three year period that ended in 2017. Republican House members argued that employers from nursing homes to small businesses can't afford another increase.
The GOP warned that such a large and rapid increase would only exacerbate the trend toward automation by businesses, lead to job cuts, and ultimately hurt the state's economy, the slowest in New England to recover from the recession that ended in 2009. Connecticut has recouped about 80% of the jobs lost, but its short-term overall employment is projected to grow 1.1% by the second quarter of 2020, according to the state's Department of Labor.
“I'm just concerned this is going to detrimentally impact an already strained economy,” said Republican Rep. Vincent Candelora, of North Branford.
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, of Derby, said no one opposes people earning more money, but she said “the numbers speak for themselves,” noting the state's population decline and an “exodus” of businesses. She said proponents of a higher minimum wage are “just blind to the reality” that Connecticut still faces serious fiscal challenges.
“Those are numbers. Those are not my opinion and my spin,” she said. “I hear what we want reality to be versus what reality actually is.”
Municipalities have also voiced concern about the looming wage increases, predicting it could lead to local property tax increases. According to the legislature's nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis, a $15 an hour wage could cost large cities, with a population of more than 100,000 people, $800,000 to $1 million in additional wages. A small town, with a population of less than 20,000, could face spending less than $50,000.
Democrats defeated eight amendments proposed by Republicans to change the bill, including one that would have eliminated future increases linked to the federal index. They argued the legislation as it stands will be good for Connecticut's economy, providing the estimated 332,000 affected workers with more purchasing power.
“In the long run, this is like medicine,” said Democratic Rep. Bobby Gibson Jr., of Bloomfield. “It's going to help.”
To appease seasonal employers, the bill called for 16- and 17-year-olds to be paid 85% of the minimum wage during a 90-day period. If they work beyond 90 days, they'd be paid the full minimum wage rate. Porter noted her disappointment, however, that the bill doesn't increase the $8.23 minimum hourly wage for bartenders and $6.38 for servers. She said she'll continue to advocate for an increase in future sessions.
Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont, a former successful businessman, urged the Senate to swiftly pass the legislation. The session is scheduled to adjourn June 5.
“If our economy doesn't work for everyone, then it doesn't work,” he said. “It's that simple,”