Bristol’s lawmakers split along party lines Monday in a successful effort by the General Assembly to override the governor’s veto of a minimum wage hike.
“It’s an easy vote for me,” said state Sen. Tom Colapietro, a Bristol Democrat who has represented the 31st District since 1992.
Colapietro’s vote in favor of raising the minimum wage was one of 25 in the Senate to override Gov. Jodi Rell’s veto. Twenty four votes were needed for the two-thirds majority required.
In the state House, the margin as 102-39, also one vote more than the minimum needed.
"There's a lot of people that are just barely making ends meet," said state Rep. Frank Nicastro, a Bristol Democrat who favored the override. The rising cost of gas, utilities and food is making it even tougher for working people, he added.
The legislature’s decision ensures the current minimum hourly wage of $7.65 an hour rises to $8 beginning in January and to $8.25 an hour in 2010 – which will make it the highest in the country.
State Rep. Bill Hamzy, a Plymouth Republican whose 78th District includes part of Bristol, said he returned early from a family trip out of state in hopes of making the vote, but missed it.
"I would have voted to sustain the governor's veto," said Hamzy.
In fact, by not being present to vote to override, said Hamzy, he effectively did the same thing.
Hamzy said he's always voted to support increases in the minimum wage, but couldn't do it this time.
The state's minimum wage is among the highest in the nation, said Hamzy, which he said is appropriate. But he said increasing the minimum wage from $7.65 to $8 an hour in this economy wasn't the right thing to do.
"If we do one more thing to increase the cost of doing business in Connecticut, I don't think that's the right thing to do," said Hamzy.
Jill Fitzgerald, the Republican seeking to take over departing state Rep. Ron Burns’ 77th District seat, said she is disappointed in the override.
“The increase in the minimum wage is going to come back to taxpayers in the form of higher prices for the services that regular folks use,” Fitzgerald said. “This is at a time when our basic needs like groceries and gas are at an all time high.”
“I think that this is the type of legislation that, when extrapolated out, has much more of a negative than positive effect on the citizens and employers in our state,” she said.
Fitzgerald added that “taxpayers need to beware of these laws that sound like they are working for the people when in reality they just sound good in a headline, but really hurt us in the long run.”
Colapietro said that he’s backed higher wages for decades and isn’t about to stop.
He said that he doesn’t believe business has lost a single job because of increases to the minimum wage. In fact, he said, unless people start earning more, there won’t be anybody to purchase the goods and services that businesses offer.
Colapietro said that the Connecticut Business and Industry Association and the insurance industry “don’t care about anybody but themselves” so they’re always pushing to keep wages down.
Nicastro said that sometimes when people are under financial stress and desperate, "they wind up doing things they shouldn't be doing."
Raising the minimum wage offers a better way, according to Nicastro, who represents the 79th District.
"We want people to work," said Nicastro. "We don't want 'em on welfare. We don't want 'em turning to criminal activity."
If the nation can send money to other countries to help people there, Nicastro said, surely society can help people at home.
Burns, who is not seeking reelection, voted against the minimum wage hike from the start. He could not be reached.
Rell called the Democratic-controlled legislature’s decision “seriously short-sighted” and likely to cause higher price, a loss of jobs and more costs for employers.
"Even as the national economic picture continues to darken, the legislature has opted to further cloud Connecticut's business environment,” Rell said.
“ Instead of making the state more business-friendly, instead of encouraging the small businesses that are the single greatest creator of jobs, instead of positioning Connecticut to succeed when the economy once more begins to grow, the legislature has taken a step backward,” the governor said.
“A minimum wage increase at this time does little but hurt the families it is intended to help," Rell said in a statement released after the vote.
Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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