Half Of Senate Dems Undecided On Minimum Wage Hike
The House spent more than three hours Thursday passing a bill to raise the minimum wage, but with just 12 days left in a busy session it’s still not clear whether the legislation will see a vote in the Senate this year.
At a Friday press conference, Senate President Donald Williams said there hasn’t been a vote count among Senate Democrats to determine whether there’s enough support for the version of the bill passed by the House.
The House reduced the minimum wage increase to 25 cents per year for two years, down from the 75 cents per year the bill originally proposed. They also scrapped a provision that would have linked automatic increases in the minimum wage to the Consumer Price Index, which measures the cost of living.
“I do have to tell you, as I’ve told folks in the past, the previous versions really did not have the support of the Senate,” he said. “It remains to be seen. It’s moving in a direction where it may be more palatable. We just don’t have a hard vote count.”
On Friday, more than half the 22 Senate Democrats said they weren’t sure whether they would be supporting the bill this year. Several said they’d reserve judgment until the group had time to caucus the measure. Some said they’d yet to read the language of the House bill, but 12 members said they didn’t know if they’d support it.
“I’m still having difficulty with it,” Sen. Steve Cassano, D-Manchester, said. “[The changes] give me more to think about but I’ve said plenty of times, I don’t think this is the year for it. If we’re serious about growing the economy, this just isn’t the time to do it.”
Cassano wasn’t alone in his concern about the bill’s timing. While Williams said he wouldn’t weigh in until the group had discussed it as a whole, he also seemed to be considering the current state of the economy.
“I’ve always been a supporter of the minimum wage, but we’ve always done it in years when we’ve had a robust economy,” he said.
Kia F. Murrell of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association said she was happy lawmakers were considering the bill’s timing. She added that Democrats who are wavering on the issue understand that most people work at small businesses that would be negatively impacted by an increase.
“Simply put, it’s a popular idea but it’s a really bad time for any increase in labor costs,” Murrell said.
She also cited a Quinnipiac poll from this week which found that while 70 percent of voters favored a minimum wage increase, 50 percent also felt that small businesses will reduce the number of people they hire if it were increased.
However, Sen. Gayle Slossberg, D-Milford, who also said she was undecided about the bill, said the timing issue plays both ways.
“The people making minimum wage need it right now because the times are so tough, but the businesses don’t need it right now because the times are so tough,” she said.
Seven Senate Democrats have expressed their intention to support the bill. Sen. Ed Gomes, D-Bridgeport, said increasing the minimum wage helps fight poverty. He said he preferred the bill in its original form but he would take what he could get.
“If we can get anything in a minimum wage bill, I’ve always been a ‘yes’ vote,” he said.
The Working Families Party tried to remind lawmakers Friday why an increase in the minimum age is necessary by bringing to the capitol a group of people who have fallen on hard times, including Bernice Weinstein.
When Weinstein, a New Haven mother of six, worked a third shift job at a Branford Wal-Mart, she said she would walk more than two hours from her home.
She said she made the walk every day for two years.
Now unemployed, she said she couldn’t keep her finances together and eventually became homeless. She now lives with friends on Davenport Avenue in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven.
Friday, Weinstein brought a petition of about 4,000 signatures supporting a minimum wage hike to Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman and Williams.
The increase “would help me a lot. Because if I get a job, then I could support my kids,” Weinstein said.
Wyman took the petition and said she would deliver it to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. Asked about the bill Thursday, Malloy said it “is a bill that if it passes I can get behind.”
Malloy continued: “I think moderation that’s being demonstrated is appropriate.”
Wyman also spoke in support of the legislation.
“We are about the regular people, and we need people to be able to live in our state and afford to live and take care of their families and have a house,” Wyman said. “You can’t do that the way it is now.”
Asked if the governor would be sending any message to Senate Democrats about the minimum wage, Wyman said, “If you look at the polling data, I think that gives the message to the people in the Senate chamber that people in the state want to see a minimum wage raised.”
Chris Doucot, a missionary from the Catholic Worker House in the North End of Hartford, asked Wyman if she would lobby to make the minimum wage higher than the bill proposed, saying even the current wage hike would still be a “poverty” level salary for a family of four.
Wyman said she has no control over what Senate Democrats do, but that “we still have a lot of work to do.”