Connecticut governor calls for $10.10 hourly minimum wage

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Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Tuesday called for increasing the state's minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by 2017, which would make Connecticut's the highest in the nation.

"There is a debate happening across our country on how to tackle the growing income inequality that is detrimental to our middle class families and to our families," Malloy said during a news conference in Bridgeport. The Democrat said "a good and decent wage is good for workers and good for business."

Malloy's proposal will be included in his legislative package to be considered by the Democratic-controlled General Assembly, which will have its opening-day session on Thursday. Under his plan, the minimum wage would increase to $9.15 on Jan. 1, 2015; to $9.60 on Jan. 1, 2016; and to $10.10 on Jan. 1, 2017.

Republican legislators criticized the move as election year politics, even though Malloy has not yet announced his re-election plans. The $10.10 rate proposed by the Democratic governor is the same as President Obama's proposal for the federal minimum wage.

"As soon as President Obama mentioned a minimum wage of $10.10 in his State of the Union speech, I said to a friend of mine, I would expect Governor Malloy to do the same," said Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, a GOP gubernatorial candidate from Fairfield. He said Malloy was "copying the national Democratic play book."

"I think he's putting forward policies that will help him get elected," McKinney said.

Connecticut's minimum wage just increased from $8.25 to $8.70 on Jan. 1. A second increase to $9 is scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, 2015.

About 68,000 workers in Connecticut were paid the minimum wage in 2013, or about 4 percent of the state's employed labor force, according to the state Department of Labor.

House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, welcomed the proposal.

"Connecticut helped start the conversation when it comes to a $10 minimum wage, and I support the governor on leading the way again," he said. "This will help tens of thousands of struggling working families, and add hundreds of millions of dollars to our economy."

Andrew Markowski, the Connecticut director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said further increasing the minimum wage will hurt struggling small businesses, such as family-run restaurants, convenience stores, landscape contractors and seasonal businesses. He predicted it will discourage employers from hiring workers.

"I think it would be one more mark, giving the state of Connecticut the dubious distinction of a place that's not conducive to do business, particularly small business," Markowski said. "By 2017, if things are going as they are, we'd have the highest minimum wage in the nation, the only state in the nation with mandated paid sick leave, very high income and property taxes and high unemployment. I don't think those are things to be proud of."

Malloy has not always fully embraced proposed minimum wage increases. In January 2013, he was noncommittal about a bill that would raise the wage to $9.75 by 2014. That same legislation also called for automatic raises that would be tied to increases in the Consumer Price Index, a federal measure of inflation.

A spokesman for Malloy said at the time that the governor "supports the ideals behind the legislation," but also understands the cost pressures facing businesses, particularly in a weak economy.