Slow Start For Minimum Wage Debate
The Labor and Public Employees Committee scrapped plans to raise a bill to increase the state’s minimum wage during its first meeting Thursday after Republican members complained the proposed concepts weren’t screened first with the minority party.
Sen. Cathy Osten, one of the committees new co-chairs, said she still plans to raise the bill this year despite opposition from the committee’s ranking Republican, Sen. Joe Markley.
Markley said he asked Osten and Rep. Peter Tercyak to table all the proposals they planned to raise Thursday until they had met with the committee’s ranking Republicans to discuss them. Markley said that was the custom last year when he served as ranking Republican on the Human Services Committee, which Tercyak chaired at the time.
“We had screening meetings with both the ranking members and the chairs where we went through everything. Obviously it’s their decision in the end, but just because we haven’t had a chance to screen the bills first, it seemed like it would be appropriate to talk about them between ourselves before we brought them out,” Markley said. “I’m sure we’ll be seeing it.”
During the short meeting, which consisted only of member and staff introductions, Markley joked about his working relationship with Tercyak.
“I’m new to this committee, but I couldn’t stand to be separated from Peter Tercyak when he was moved off Human Services and I look forward to arguing with him in private and in public,” he said.
Last year, efforts by then-House Speaker Chris Donovan to raise the minimum hourly wage ended unsuccessfully when Senate leadership let the bill die because of a lack of support in the chamber.
Osten said the concept needs to be looked at again this year. She wouldn’t speak for other Senate Democrats, but she said she supports raising the minimum wage herself.
This year Osten replaced long-serving Sen. Edith Prague, both in representing the district and chairing the Labor Committee. During her last year in the Senate, Prague was one of the legislature’s staunchest advocates for raising the minimum wage. She said it would help to stimulate the economy.
“If people had money in their pockets they would be able to spend a little more,” she said during a Labor Committee meeting last March.
Markley doesn’t buy that argument.
“There’s a fiction on the state level about the idea that shuffling money around somehow increases demand,” he said. “Because every dollar has to come from someplace . . . the business is going to have that much less to spend someplace else.”
Markley said he would support increasing the minimum wage if the state’s economic outlook was better, but feels it’s the wrong time to put an additional burden on businesses.
Osten said low-income families are also struggling under current economic climate and it isn’t cheap to live in Connecticut.
“Many people in Connecticut have a high cost of living and many people exist on minimum wage jobs,” she said.