Connecticut Leaders Respond to Obama Speech
Connecticut leaders and legislators differed in their assessment of the call by President Barack Obama to raise the minimum wage.
Obama, who wants Congress to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour is also urging states to do so at their level. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has proposed Connecticut raise its minimum wage to $10.10 by January 2017.
In his speech at Central Connecticut State University, Obama said an increase in the minimum wage is part of his agenda to "restore opporutunity for everyone."
Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, said the President's speech reiterates all the reasons why Connecticut wants to raise minimum wage.
“I think it was really very inspiring,” he said of the speech. “It reaffirms what the public opinion here is in Connecticut that supports raising the wage to lift more people out of poverty.”
New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart said she was honored Obama was visiting New Britain.
"It’s a true honor that the president was in my hometown and at my alma mater, today I welcome him with open arms," she said. "The city of New Britain is ecstatic to be on the map. I said to him ‘Welcome to hard hittin’ New Britain. I gave him a Stanley tape measure and I told him that that Stanley has been employers in our town for a long time and they pay their people almost $20 dollars an hour. He said to me ‘You know I spent some money in your downtown’ and I said ‘Good. Why don’t you come back'.”
But she doesn't necessarily see eye-to-eye with him on a minimum wage increase.
"The beauty of politics is that you can agree to disagree," she said. "...it’s a quick fix, but it’s a long term problem of people living in poverty. I see that every day in my office. I talk to people that have low paying jobs every day. Every day they come to me looking for help seeking any assistance that we may be able to provide them and it hurts to not be able to do anything. But will raising the minimum wage really help them or will it help them if we were able to get businesses and manufacturers in to pay stable wages, with insurance and benefits? That’s the question. So there's a double edged sword to everything. You always have to look at the pros and the cons. The President is the President and he sees that this is the best for him, and it's up to Congress now."
Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said Obama's speech was "superb" and hilighted the reasons why Connecticut is behind having a higher minimum wage. Connecticut just raised its minimum wage effective Jan. 1 of this year and another increase is scheduled to take place next January. This would bring the minimum wage to $9.00. But Malloy, who took the stage with Obama Wednesday, wants a new law that would increase the minimum wage to $9.15 in 2015, another raise in 2016 to $9.60 and then to $10.10 in 2017.
"I think one the reasons the President probably came here, is Connecticut is one of the states that has embraced the level that he would like to see the national minim wage rise to," Looney said.
Looney said the argument that raising minimum wages causes businesses to cut jobs is a "bogus argument."
“Every time we’ve had an increase in the minimum wage there has never been an increase that caused a loss of jobs what it does cause is a slight increase in the economic power of low income families and the principle the president annunciated is absolutely true. Someone who is working full time, 40 hours a week as many people are…ought to be able to support themselves through their earnings and not to have to be dependent on government subsidies," he said. "The problem that we have now is that with the minimum wage being so low there are people with full time jobs who still have to apply for food stamps, who still have to apply for other governmental aid programs, so in effect, these business entities that complain about the minimum wage are in effect being subsidised because their workers have to turn to the government for what they’re not being paid."
Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 is a start, he said.
“It’s a modest increase, its not aliving wage, but it’s certainly moving in the right direction.”
Among the Connecticut politicians who sat in the audience to the President's right during the speech was former Speaker of the House Chris Donovan, whose congressional bid -- and career in public life -- was derailed after an FBI probe that resulted in the arrest of his campaign finance director, among others.
"It's important we support working families and here in Connecticut we've made a practive to raise the minimum wage on a regular basis," Donovan said. Donovan said the goveronor and Democratic proposal for the bill was boosted by the President's speech.
Raising the wage will show "all the low-wage workers out there that people in Connecticut care, and we're going to raise the minimum wage and try to make it better for you," Donovan said. "I think you have the leaders of the House and Senate Demorats and the President of the United States behind you, you have all of (Connecticut's delegation in) Congress behind you, I think it has a really good chance. I'd be surprised if it didn't pass this year, and I'm just proud of everyone's efforts this year."
Connecticut Leaders Respond to Obama Speech