Conn. House overrides minimum wage veto

June 23, 2008 2:22:04 PM PDT
With one vote to spare, the Democrat-controlled state House of Representatives has voted to override Gov. M. Jodi Rell's veto of a minimum wage increase. It marked the second time that the General Assembly has overturned one of the Republican governor's vetoes.

The override will ensure that the current minimum hourly wage of $7.65 an hour is boosted to $8 beginning in January, and to $8.25 an hour in 2010. The change will make Connecticut's minimum wage among the highest in the nation.

"It's a simple matter of equity," said Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, saying low-wage workers need the $14 weekly increase as gasoline and food prices are increasing.

An estimated 65,000 workers in the state receive the minimum wage.

Rell, who supported past minimum wage increases, called Monday's veto override "a seriously shortsighted decision" that will hurt small businesses during a difficult economic period.

"Even as the national economic picture continues to darken, the legislature has opted to further cloud Connecticut's business environment," she said.

Most of Rell's GOP colleagues agreed.

"Please, before you cast your vote on this bill, think about what you're doing," pleaded state Rep. Anthony D'Amelio, R-Waterbury, who also owns a small business. "What you're doing actually is hurting the people you're trying to help."

D'Amelio predicted that businesses will cut workers' hours to cover the pay increase.

Some Democrats called the Republicans' concerns a red herring. Senate President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, said similar dire predictions were made when lawmakers increased the wage in the past, but they never came true.

Sister Teresa Fonti, co-director of the House of Bread soup kitchen in Hartford, said she's seeing more poor people with jobs seeking assistance.

"Obviously, this salary is not getting them through the week," she said.

Democratic leaders initially were unsure how many legislators would attend Monday's veto session because of summer vacations and work schedules.

House members needed a two-thirds majority - at least 101 votes - to override the veto. The final tally was 102-39.

The Senate's vote was 25-9, a one-vote margin above the minimum 24 votes needed for the override. Both votes were mostly along party lines.

Both chambers also narrowly voted to override Rell's veto of a related bill that increases the "tip credit" for hotel and restaurant employees who regularly receive gratuities, such as waiters and bartenders.

The tip credit lets hotels, restaurants and related businesses pay less than minimum wage to service employees as long as tips make up the difference.

Meanwhile, the Senate fell short Monday by one vote of overriding another Rell veto. That bill would have created a 25-member cabinet to consider long-term funding options for struggling nonprofit social service agencies.