Gov. M. Jodi Rell vetoed an increase in the state's hourly minimum wage Tuesday, inviting an election-year override attempt by the legislature's Democratic majority.
Rell said her veto was prompted by the weak economy, though the bill would not take effect until 2009. It would raise the $7.65 wage to $8 on Jan. 1 and to $8.25 in 2010.
"We cannot take a chance on hurting families or employers by signing another minimum wage increase into law at this time," Rell said in a written statement. She signed a previous increase in 2006.
House Majority Leader Christopher G. Donovan, D- Meriden, said an override would depend on the willingness by one of two Republican senators who supported the measure to defy the governor.
An override requires 24 votes in the Senate, where Democrats hold 23 seats, and 101 in the House. Democrats hold 107 House seats.
The Senate passed the bill 25-11, with Republican Sens. Sam S.F. Caligiuri of Waterbury and Anthony Guglielmo of Stafford and all 23 Democrats in favor.
Caligiuri said Tuesday he told the governor's staff last week he was unlikely to change sides and uphold a veto.
"They knew that going into the governor's veto today," Caligiuri said.
Guglielmo could not be reached.
The House approved the increase on a 106-45 vote, with 103 Democrats and three Republicans in support. Four Democrats sided with 41 Republicans in opposition.
Rell defended her veto during a live telephone interview with Neil Cavuto on Fox News, saying that business opponents were persuasive.
She read a letter from a Burger King franchisee, who complained that the higher minimum wage would cost him $123,760.
"It says, 'I have about 250 full- and part-time employees. Most of them make well above the minimum wage, but when I have to increase the minimum wage I have to do the same thing for all employees,'" she said.
"You know, governor, that labor groups are going to come after you," Cavuto said.
"That's OK," Rell replied. "I think they would much rather have jobs than to have people out of work right now."
Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, said Rell overstated the harm to employers.
"We're not talking about putting the brakes on the Connecticut economy," Williams said. "We're talking about helping workers at the bottom wrung of the salary scale."
"I'm disappointed Gov. Rell would deny a modest increase to our lowest-paid workers in tough economic times," Donovan said.
Connecticut is among the states to exceed the federal minimum, which remained at $5.15 from 1997 to 2007, when it rose to $5.85. It is scheduled to rise to $6.55 in July and $7.25 a year later.
Rell signed a previous increase two years ago, catching fellow Republicans in the legislature by surprise.
But she was heavily lobbied this year by business groups.
"Business owners tell me it is not just the cost of raising the minimum wage, but also the associated costs, such as higher Social Security, unemployment tax and workers' compensation payments," Rell said. "For businesses with thin profit margins that are struggling, this bill could have a negative impact of $700 or so per worker per year."
Jerry Brick, the general manager of Lake Compounce theme park in Bristol, said he had calculated that the increase would have cost him $150,000.
John J. Leone Jr., president of the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce, said his group supported raising the minimum wage two years ago.
"This is not the time to do it in a recession," said Leone, whose group represents businesses in Bristol and five other communities.
Andy Markowski, the state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said his clients are grateful to Rell.
"Given how many small businesses are struggling in this shaky economy with skyrocketing energy costs, food prices and health care costs, now was the wrong time to heap additional costs on Connecticut's smallest employers," he said.
Rep. Zeke Zalaski, D- Southington, the vice chairman of the labor and public employees committee, called the veto "a surrender to business interests."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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