Business Audience Quizzes Malloy on Minimum Wage

Mar 5, 2014

CBIA members listen to legislative leaders during Connecticut Business Day at the Capitol
Credit Harriet Jones / WNPR

Before he traveled to New Britain for this afternoon’s event with President Obama, Governor Dannel Malloy faced what might be his most skeptical audience on the issue of minimum wage.

Every year, the state’s biggest business organization, the Connecticut Business and Industry Association brings hundreds of its members to Hartford to meet with legislators to air their concerns. While energy prices, tax reform and workforce training were all higher on the agenda than minimum wage, when Governor Dannel Malloy spoke he was asked what effect he thinks a minimum wage hike will have on the economy. In response he took an informal poll. “How many people in the room have more than two percent of your workforce earning minimum wage?" he asked. "One, two, three… so, I’m just putting it into perspective.”

And he brought his argument to this tax-aware audience, telling them a recent survey shows that almost one third of bank tellers in the US rely on a federal program like Medicaid or food stamps not to live in poverty. "We’ve got to get our priorities right," he told the assembled business people. "If you want government to be smaller, and you don’t want to have so much expenditures on federal programs, and therefore driving taxes, then we’ve got to make sure people are making a decent wage."

In truth, the small business community is divided on the issue of the minimum wage. Some, like Craig Frankel of Lantern Energy in Norwich, fully support the President’s campaign. "I believe that minimum wage should be raised," he said. "I’ve a big belief that everyone needs to make a living."

Others, like Sweyden Dibble, who runs a Charles Schwab franchise in South Windsor believe the emphasis should be on individuals working their way up the ladder. "People have to make enough money to support their families," Dibble said. "They have to be well educated and skilled enough to do so, and hopefully we can get to where a rising tide lifts all boats."

But one of the most frequent concerns among businesses who don’t pay minimum wage is that a hefty hike for the lowest earners will mean the whole wage structure above them must also rise. Paul Hoffman runs a manufacturing company called Orange Research, based in Milford. "I mean, obviously, you want to support a livable wage," he said, "but does it have a ripple effect on wages that we pay now and the ability to continue to pay those wages and I think that’s where the fear – will it affect jobs in the long run?"

It’s a point Governor Malloy concedes, but he doesn’t necessarily see it as a negative. "Do I think it will have some upward trend? I do, but I think an improving economy is going to have an upward trend," the Governor told reporters after his speech. "What we’re really talking about is reaching down to the folks who have not shared in the growth of the economy historically in a forty year period and raising them up. If that puts some pressure – so be it.”

Watch CT-N's footage of CBIA's event below: