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CT minimum wage increase is common ground for Democrats and Lamont

Gov. Ned Lamont talks with former Rep. Bruce Morris, the board chair of Full Circle Youth Empowerment, where Lamont spoke Monday about the minimum wage.
Gov. Ned Lamont talks with former Rep. Bruce Morris, the board chair of Full Circle Youth Empowerment, where Lamont spoke Monday about the minimum wage.

The coming increase of Connecticut’s hourly wage to $14 on Friday was an opportunity Monday for Gov. Ned Lamont to share ground with some of his fellow Democrats who sometimes wish for a more progressive governor.

In a visit to a storefront office in Bridgeport that houses a non-profit organization serving “marginalized youth,” Lamont said he was there to remind Connecticut the minimum wage was about to change.

Unspoken was another reminder: Without his election in 2018, the bill increasing a $10.10 minimum wage in annual increments to $15 next June would not have become law given the opposition of Republican Bob Stefanowski.

The event Monday followed his endorsement Friday by the state’s largest labor organization, the Connecticut AFL-CIO, for reelection in his rematch with Stefanowski.

Election years have a way of unifying Connecticut’s fractious Democratic coalition around the politics of pragmatism. As one union leader privately noted last week, it’s always better to have a governor with you 75% of the time than 0%.

“When you are left with two choices, in this case Ned Lamont and Bob Stefanowski, I don’t think you can find anyone from these unions who believes Mr. Stefanowski is a better choice,” said House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford.

On Monday, two liberal Democrats from New Haven joined the governor in Bridgeport, as did Mayor Joseph P. Ganim, who challenged him for the Democratic nomination four years ago, and Sen. Marilyn Moore, D-Bridgeport, a member of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus.

“I am so grateful to have you as the governor,” Moore said. “When we needed you, you were there to sign off on some of these important bills that influence and impact the lives of Black and brown people in big cities like Bridgeport, Hartford and New Haven.”

Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven, who has clashed with Lamont in her pursuit of an aggressive labor agenda, including higher taxes on the wealthy, said her appearance with the governor should not be a surprise.

“I believe in giving credit where credit’s due, and this was an opportune time to do that,” said Porter, who pushed the $15 minimum wage as co-chair of the Labor and Public Employees Committee. “This wouldn’t happen without his pen.”

The minimum wage law requires the governor and legislature to consider a freeze if the economy retracts in successive quarters. Connecticut’s gross domestic product has grown, but Stefanowski has made a central issue of inflation during the administrations of Lamont and President Joe Biden.

Stefanowski, who opposed the higher minimum wage four years ago as an ill-timed burden on struggling businesses, said Monday in an email he still has concerns about the impact on businesses and consumers.

“While I support a minimum wage, most businesses are already offering higher wages to offset 40-year high Biden Lamont inflation making everything more expensive,” Stefanowski said.

Lamont said inflation was more a reason to increase the minimum wage than to freeze it.

“I think my least favorite way of dealing with inflation is having those that do a lot of essential work at the very lowest wages in our state and in our country not get a wage that at least keeps pace with inflation, which is what the increase does right now,” Lamont said. “Look, inflation has a lot of roots. I’d say the minimum wage is probably number 1,388 on the list.”

Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, is a labor-and-tax policy liberal who has developed a partnership with Lamont over increases to the Earned Income Tax Credit for the working poor, as well as the passage in 2019 of laws increasing the minimum wage and establishing a paid family and medical leave benefit.

“The history of the minimum wage is that every few years, there would be an agreement that the minimum wage had fallen farther and farther behind inflation, and then there would be a consensus to perhaps pass a slight increase, and then the same cycle would repeat,” Looney said.

Looney said Lamont helped break that cycle.

The 2019 minimum wage law set a schedule of increases in what then was a $10.10 minimum wage: $11 in October 2019, $12 in September 2020, $13 in August 2021, $14 in July 2022, and $15 in June 2023. After 2023, the minimum wage will be pegged to the Employment Cost Index, a measure of wage growth calculated by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Anyone who spends a day in Hartford would know that this bill only passed because there was an activist Democratic governor and a Democratic majority in the General Assembly who passed it and put it on his desk, where he was waiting with his pen in hand to sign it,” Looney said. “That’s how things get done. That’s how progressive things get done.”

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