Published January 31. 2013 6:00PM Updated January 31. 2013 6:44PM
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — For the second year in a row, Connecticut's largest business group and labor advocates are digging in for a fight in the legislature over raising the minimum wage.
Connecticut Working Families is backing legislation that would increase the minimum wage from $8.25 an hour to $9 on July 1 and to $9.75 a year later. The legislation also calls for automatic raises in the minimum wage tied to increases in the Consumer Price Index, the federal measure of inflation.
Automatic increases would avoid annual political fights, say backers of the legislation.
"I don't know why any legislature would want to have this fight every year," said Lindsay Farrell, executive director of Connecticut Working Families.
The Connecticut Business and Industry Association, which represents 10,000 businesses in the state, opposes the legislation. It says higher labor costs will force employers to hire fewer workers and increase prices.
"While I applaud the committee's good intentions, I would suggest the best way to help individuals in entry-level and low-skilled jobs is to stop adding costs to employers in order to encourage more hiring and more opportunities for employee advancement," Eric Gjede, assistant counsel for the business group, said in prepared testimony to the legislature's Committee on Labor and Public Employees.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is noncommittal. A spokesman said in a statement that the governor supports "the ideals behind the legislation," but also understands cost pressures facing businesses, particularly in the weak economy.
"We must be mindful of the needs of businesses, especially given the current economic climate," spokesman Andrew Doba said.
Doba said Malloy has signed into law two bills that benefit the poor and low-paid workers: the Earned Income Tax Credit and legislation requiring employers to provide paid sick leave.
Last year, legislation to raise Connecticut's minimum wage passed the House of Representatives, but failed to come up in the Senate. Malloy said then he was concerned that raising the minimum wage would hurt business in a fragile economy. Ten states tie minimum wage increases to inflation.
Sen. Catherine Osten, Senate chairwoman of the Labor and Public Employees Committee, said she does not believe raising the minimum wage will undermine business and tying it to inflation is "a perfect way to go."
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, said the minimum wage legislation shows "total denial" of Connecticut's continued weak economy.
"Small businesses struggling and you're going to raise the minimum wage?" he asked. "It's just beyond comprehension."
Between 65,000 and 70,000 workers were paid the minimum wage last year, or about 4 percent of the state's labor force, according to the state Department of Labor.
Blanca Cabrera, who said she emigrated from Ecuador two years ago, is paid the state's minimum wage of $8.25 an hour at a Burger King in New Haven. She attended a legislative hearing on Thursday to support raising the minimum wage.
Through a translator, Cabrera said the minimum wage provides a "salary of misery" and needs to be at least $14 an hour to meet her expenses.