Connecticut lawmakers Wednesday approved raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by 2017, the highest for any state in the country and the same rate that President Barack Obama wants for the federal minimum wage.
Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who recently appeared with Obama and several New England governors to tout the proposal, applauded Wednesday's votes, saying he'll sign the bill into law at the same New Britain restaurant where Obama dined earlier this month during a visit.
"I am proud that Connecticut is once again a leader on an issue of national importance," Malloy said. "Increasing the minimum wage is not just good for workers, it's also good for business."
Jack Temple, a policy analyst for the National Employment Law Project, said Connecticut's vote clears the way for other states to pass the legislation, and possibly Congress.
"I think the significance cannot be overstated for this," he said. "The more action we see on the state level like this, that's always an ingredient for momentum at the federal level as well."
The New York-based nonprofit research and advocacy group said similar proposals are also being considered by lawmakers in Maryland, Massachusetts, Hawaii and elsewhere.
The $10.10 wage is the highest imposed by a state, but there are higher minimum wages imposed by cities, including $10.74 in San Francisco. Washington, D.C., will raise its minimum wage to $11.50 by 2016. California's minimum wage will increase to $10 by 2016.
"I hope Members of Congress, governors, state legislators and business leaders across our country will followConnecticut's lead to help ensure that no American who works full time has to raise a family in poverty, and that every American who works hard has the chance to get ahead," Obama said in a statement after Wednesday's vote.
Yet Republican lawmakers said the move was the latest in a string of legislation, including mandatory paid medical leave, making Connecticut uncompetitive.
"We continue to have this schizophrenic attitude, where we say we're open for business on one hand -; small businesses, you're our backbone, you are our heroes," said House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk. "Then we keep taking actions that keep punching them in the gut."
The bill passed the Democratic-controlled General Assembly on largely party lines Wednesday. It passed 21-14 in the Senate and 87-54 in the House.
Under current law, Connecticut's minimum wage was already scheduled to climb by 30 cents to $9 on Jan. 1, 2015. But under this bill, it would instead increase to $9.15 an hour. It would go up to $9.60 on Jan. 1, 2016 and to $10.10 on Jan. 1, 2017.
Between 70,000 and 90,000 people earn the minimum wage in Connecticut, said Senate President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn.
Republican senators acknowledged some people would benefit but questioned whether struggling small businesses and the state's economy are strong enough to absorb the increase.
"To call it soft is a compliment," said Sen. Joe Markley, R-Southington. "We're increasing the minimum wage at a time when the demand for employment is already low."
Malloy, who has yet to announce his re-election plans, has made the minimum wage a major political issue. Besides appearing with Obama, Malloy was involved in a recent on-camera partisan feud outside the White House with Louisiana Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal over the $10.10 federal minimum wage proposal.
According to a Quinnipiac University Poll released earlier this month, 6 in 10 registered Connecticut voters support increasing the wage to $10.10 or more. The survey of 1,878 registered voters had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.3 percentage points.