Families in the state are continuing to struggle in making ends meet, but a group of Democrats including House Speaker Christopher Donovan and State Rep. Bruce “Zeke” Zalaski believe an increase in the minimum wage could provide assistance and even help provide a small spark in the economy.
Donovan, of Meriden, and the representative teamed with several other Democrats on Tuesday afternoon in releasing a coauthored bill that would increase the state’s minimum wage by $0.75 in July and by another $0.75 in July 2012. The bill also aims to set a standard “cost of living” wage increase so the legislature is not having to address the issue again in upcoming years, Zalaski said.
“It would bring the minimum wage up to $9.75 (in 2013),” Zalaski said. “The highest wage is currently $9.04 in the state of Washington and they will surpass us by that time. This bill will also look at the indexing systems that ten states currently use and help provide a standard in future years.”
The index system has become more popular in the past decade, allowing states to set increases automatically based on the consumer price index, Donovan said. Indexing systems are essential in accounting for cost of living increases and the establishment of one would prevent the need to review the minimum wage every two years, both representatives said.
Donovan said the latest proposal comes on the heels of a analytical report which showed that minimum wage earners, if they were able to work 40 hours per week all year long, would have a salary of around $18,000. The income is over $5,000 below the poverty line.
“What we are looking at here is not a large increase,” Donovan said. “Before taxes, it would amount to around $30 per week.”
Zalaski said that studies have also shown that while the common perception is those earning minimum wage are teenagers and students, more than 80 percent of those currently being paid the state minimum are older than 20.
Local business owners in the Plantsville area expressed indifference when asked about the proposed increase Tuesday afternoon, but the Democrats at the capital found support from several state business entities including the Connecticut America Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations and Berlin small business owner Barbara Stasiak.
Stasiak, owner of Bridal Bells Boutique in Berlin, said she pays employees at rates above minimum wage already and encouraged others to do the same.
“I challenge anyone, business owner or otherwise, who opposes a minimum wage increase to try to live on $8.25 an hour. A fair and living wage keeps employees loyal and productive,” Stasiak said. “Paying a fair wage hasn't hurt my business; it has helped it. It's time that lawmakers and business owners stand up for their workers. Raising the minimum wage is the right thing to do, and the right time is now.”
But not everyone is onboard with the latest proposal.
State Rep. Rob Sampson, R-Southington, Wolcott, said he would need to do more research into the matter and State Sen. Joe Markley, R-Southington, believes that when a vote is taken, it will be split down party lines.
Markley, who believes heavily in the importance of keeping limiting government’s role in private business, said after the press conference Tuesday that he understands the intent of the proposal, but is concerned that it “could have a negative effect on a struggling economy.”
“I am certainly sympathetic to those who trying so hard to make ends meet,” Markley said. “That considered this is a difficult time to be putting more dictation toward Connecticut business on how they should conduct their affairs.”
Markley and Sampson both noted that the latest proposal comes on the heels of legislation in 2011 that is now forcing businesses to provide funding for paid sick leave for employees and an extension unemployment benefits that is forcing businesses that have not laid anyone off to continue to contribute to a state pool.
These regulations are sending the wrong message to business owners around the state, Markley said.
“Here we are proclaiming that Connecticut is open for business, but we were the first state in country with that paid sick leave. To raise the minimum wage sends a red flag to those who are thinking of coming or starting a new business here,” Markley said. “This is not making them consider Connecticut to be a stable environment.”
Zalaski said he believes the minimum wage will help the economy, noting that most of those currently paying minimum wage aren’t small businesses or new start-ups. The most likely place to find minimum wage workers is instead at box stores and big chain businesses, he said.
By increasing minimum wage, Zalaski said he believes it will put more money into the economy and convince families to spend the new money, be it small amounts, at small businesses and provide a small spark.
“This isn’t going to hurt any businesses. If there is a need for help, they aren’t going to avoid hiring one more employee because it would cost an extra $0.75,” Zalaski said. “This isn’t going to take any jobs away. It is only going to serve to help families and help the economy.”
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