HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has decided to invest a lot of political capital in the issue of the minimum wage, publicly calling for both the state and federal wages to eventually be raised to $10.10.
The Democrat, who has yet to announce his re-election plans, recently participated in a highly publicized, on-camera partisan feud outside the White House with Louisiana Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal over President Barack Obama's proposal to increase the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. Malloy is also scheduled to appear Wednesday at an event in New Britain with Obama and other New England governors to make a pitch for an increased national minimum wage.
Malloy's investment could be politically sound, considering 71 percent of registered voters support increasing Connecticut's minimum wage, according to a statewide Quinnipiac University Poll released Tuesday. More than six in 10 people polled believe it should be raised to $10.10 or more. The survey of 1,878 registered voters has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.3 percentage points.
"Politically, he's on the right side of the minimum wage issue with the overwhelming majority of Connecticut voters in favor of increasing the minimum wage," said Poll Director Douglas Schwartz. "Whether or not that's going to help him in his re-election campaign remains to be seen."
How important the issue of the minimum age is to voters is key to whether it can help Malloy politically, Schwartz said.
"Salience is key," he said. "In the past, we've seen economic issues sort of dominate, the economy, taxes, things like that. We'll have to wait and see how big of an issue the minimum wage becomes."
If Malloy decides to seek a second term, as expected, he might not own the minimum wage issue. One of his potential chief rivals, Greenwich Republican businessman Tom Foley, announced Tuesday that he supports increasing the minimum wage nationally, calling it a "fairness issue."
"But Connecticut's problem isn't the minimum wage," said Foley, the 2010 GOP gubernatorial candidate who holds a large lead over the other potential Republican candidates. "Connecticut's problem is that far too many people, particularly young minorities in our cities, have no job at all. The job of a governor is to support policies and create an environment where high value-added jobs, not minimum wage jobs, are available for everyone who wants one."
Connecticut is not the only state where the minimum wage has become a key political issue this year.
State lawmakers in Rhode Island have introduced proposals for raising the minimum wage, now $8 an hour. It's a cause being championed by Democratic candidates for governor, who say the wage must be raised to keep up with the rising cost of living. Republican candidates, however, caution that an increase might force small businesses to cut positions.
Rhode Island's current $8 minimum took effect Jan. 1. Lawmakers approved that increase — up from $7.75 — last year.
Malloy's proposal to eventually increase Connecticut's minimum wage is moving through the Democratic-controlled General Assembly. Under his bill, the minimum wage would increase gradually until it reaches $10.10 on Jan. 1, 2017.
Malloy has not always fully embraced minimum wage increases proposed by state lawmakers. Last year, he was noncommittal about a bill that would raise the wage to $9.75 by 2014. That same legislation also called for automatic raises that would be tied to increases in the Consumer Price Index, a federal measure of inflation. A spokesman for Malloy said at the time that the governor "supports the ideals behind the legislation," but also understands the cost pressures facing businesses, particularly in a weak economy.
Last week, the governor said the state's economy needed to absorb a new earned income tax credit and mandatory paid sick leave policies before increasing the wage again.
"We've digested a lot. I think economy is making progress, continues to make progress, as slow as it might be," Malloy said. "On the other hand, I also believe that we have a lot of people out there suffering, as a result of the minimum wage having not kept current."
Associated Press writer David Klepper in Providence, R.I. contributed to this report.