March 15, 2019

Minimum wage bills pass committee

HBJ Photo | Joe Cooper
HBJ Photo | Joe Cooper
The state Capitol in Hartford.

A series of bills that would raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour passed through the Labor and Public Employees Committee on Thursday, but critics say the proposals could have an adverse impact on businesses and could exceed $15 per hour if the legislature doesn't act in the future.

Proposals from the House and Senate would raise the current minimum wage of $10.10 per hour to $12 by January 2020, $13.50 the following year, and $15 per hour by 2022. There also would be an annual indexed increase that would not have to be approved by future legislators unless they choose to act.

Another proposal raised by Gov. Ned Lamont would increase the wage to $15 per hour, but at a slower rate. The wage would be raised to $11.25 beginning in January, increasing $1.25 each year until reaching $15 per hour in 2023.

Rep. Joseph Polletta, R-Watertown, said he feared the automatic index increase could send the minimum wage soaring in future years.

"This minimum wage is just going to keep going up," he said. "That scares the heck out of me."

Rep. Michael Winkler, D-Vernon, said the average rate of inflation over the previous 10 years has been 1.6 percent.

Using a rate of 3 percent, nearly double the average, the minimum wage would reach $20 per hour in the year 2030 under the language in the proposed bill, he said, adding that the increase due to indexing actually would be inadequate in his opinion.

Sen. Julie Kushner, D-Danbury, committee co-chairwoman, noted that future legislatures would be able to take action to prevent the minimum wage from becoming excessively high.

The increase also could lead to more automation, putting people out of work, Polletta said.

"Jobs are going to evaporate," he said.

Kushner said she doubts that an increased minimum wage would lead to more automation, saying there is no direct relationship.

Rep. Craig Miner, R-Litchfield, cited public testimony from the business community, nonprofit organizations, and park and recreation associations for his concerns about the timing of the wage increases and the potential adverse impacts to businesses and their employment levels.

Kushner noted that there are several proposals currently being considered, adding that there will be a continued conversation about the timing of increases to ensure that organizations, particularly nonprofits, can continue their work.

Rep. Richard Smith, R-New Fairfield, argued against raising the minimum wage, citing the importance of businesses having the ability to hire young people who are new to the workforce.

He said he would prefer to give working mothers a raise rather than those who are in high school.

Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven, committee co-chairwoman, noted that a majority of the people in the state working for minimum wage are 30 years old or older, most of them women.

Sen. Catherine A. Osten, D-Sprague, cautiously supported the proposals, but expressed concern about the impact to the agricultural industry.

Proponents argue that increasing the minimum wage would provide people with more disposable income, therefore providing the state with more taxable income that could help with ongoing budget deficits.

Critics say that businesses will have to pass the burden onto consumers, increasing the cost of living for all residents.

Members ultimately approved on 9-5 votes three variations of proposals to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

Read more

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