our capitol bureau Minimum wage debate rages on

May 9, 2019

HARTFORD — Late-breaking complications among Democratic moderates in the state House of Representatives may have resulted in the delay Wednesday night of debate on legislation that would raise the current $10.10 minimum wage to $15.

But after a brief caucus, the possibility emerged of debating the bill and voting late Wednesday or early Thursday.

Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz called for a closed-door Democratic caucus at 8:30 p.m. to discuss possible changes, including the proposed four-year phase-in, tip credits for restaurant and bar employees, and possible safety valves to postpone increases if the state slides back into recession.

“Many ideas have been floated,” Aresimowicz told reporters in the House chamber. “We want to strike a balance, so we’ll talk about it now, do a few more bills tonight, then come back fresh tomorrow morning. These are late changes in an effort to compromise.”

Under the pending bill, more than 320,000 low-earners would get pay raises. Shortly before 9, House leaders said the issue might come up for debate later in the evening.

Democrats said it would be a big step toward giving Connecticut’s workers a living wage in a high-cost state, while Republicans charged that it would stifle business and lead to job cuts by employers confronting higher operating costs.

Stuck in the middle may be social-service workers such as nursing home workers, who haven’t received raises in years, but whose business owners are already operating on the margins of profitability.

Earlier Wednesday Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said the bill was likely to pass Wednesday night, then head to the Senate. “This is a bill that we feel comfortable we can run and pass in the House,” he said. “This is a complex issue.”

Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven, co-chairwoman of the Labor Committee, said that after the proposed final increase on Jan. 1, 2023, when the minimum wage rises to $15, future hikes would be linked to the national employee compensation index.

The first increase would occur next Jan. 1, raising the wage to $11.25. A year later if would be $12.50, then 13.75 in 2022. Sixteen- and 17-year-olds would receive 85 percent of those wages for summer jobs. After 90 days, they would be paid the full minimum wage.

Bartenders would be paid the current $8.23 an hour, while servers and other restaurant workers would make the same $6.38, in what Porter described as a compromise that she opposes because she wanted them to make more money. Employers would be required to contribute money to those tipped employees when their wages fall below those hourly thresholds.

“I fought tooth and nail for tipped-wage workers,” Porter said. “I feel that if we’re going to raise wages in the state of Connecticut, that should include all workers.”

Porter said that higher pay would mean better morale and higher productivity in the workplace.

“People will be spending more money because we’re putting more disposable income into the pockets of the people who’ll spend it,” she told reporters during a morning news conference with Aresimowicz and House Majority Leader Matt Ritter.

“If you’re talking about people on the lower-wage income area, they spend whatever money comes in,” Aresimowicz said. “That money is going directly back out into the economy. We really do believe that this minimum wage is going to have a positive effect on the economy, especially in the area of small business.”

House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, who opposes the higher wages, warned that it could cripple businesses that are just making ends meet under current pay levels. She said the section on bartenders and servers was a crucial improvement, but overall the bill remains problematic.

“It’s not that we don’t want people to make more money or help people live and take care of themselves, but it’s 2019,” she said. “There has been every anti-business bill known to man in this state. We see businesses closing every day. Making businesses pay that much more to people is going to make it worse. Unfortunately, what people don’t understand is it’s not going to be that people are going to get paid more money, it that there’s going to be less jobs.”

kdixon@ctpost.com Twitter: @KenDixonCT