Political tangle killed popular bill

Hartford - The morning after the midnight finale of this year's General Assembly session, Democrats and Republicans agreed that House Speaker Christopher Donovan, a Meriden Democrat running for Congress, was to blame for the death of a popular jobs bill.

The failed legislation, Senate Bill 1, called for new promotional campaigns for state-made products and tourism attractions, expanding a small business loan program, and adding incentives for hiring unemployed veterans. The bill was put forward by Senate Democrats, cleared the chamber on a 32-2 vote, and awaited final approval from the House of Representatives.

But House Democrats never brought the bill out for a vote.

In back-to-back news conferences Thursday, Democratic leaders of the Senate and Republican leaders of both chambers attributed the bill's demise to Donovan's insistence on a minimum wage bill.

Donovan, who is seeking the 5th Congressional District seat held by Senate hopeful Chris Murphy, was the chief proponent of legislation that would have boosted the $8.25 hourly minimum by 50 cents over two years. That bill passed the House but never won Senate approval.

Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, told reporters Thursday that in the session's final days, the fate of both bills had, in the minds of House leadership, become politically entwined.

"I was told that if we had run minimum wage on Tuesday night, that S.B. 1 would run in the House," Williams said, adding that Senate Democrats never agreed to such a link.

The reciprocity arrangement fell through when Williams and Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, couldn't round up support to pass the minimum wage bill. So they never brought it out.

"We don't run bills when we don't have the votes," Williams said. "The support for the speaker's bill simply wasn't there."

Williams and Looney said they hope to reintroduce the jobs bill at a late June special session to finish budget implementation legislation.

Williams said he was candid with Donovan at the beginning of the session, advising him that a minimum wage bill would be a tough sell this year, as past increases occurred in years when the economy was more robust or Connecticut's wage wasn't equal to or more than that of surrounding states, as it is now.

In contrast, the jobs bill was believed to have strong bipartisan support in the House. But with his minimum wage plan floundering in the Senate, Donovan wouldn't push the senators' priority.

"The reality is a good bipartisan jobs package working off of what we worked on last fall died because of one man's insistence on passing a minimum wage increase," Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said. "The blame for that falls squarely on his shoulders."

A Donovan spokesman on Thursday contested those assertions.

Doug Whiting said it was the House speaker's understanding that Republicans were ready to force a lengthy debate on the jobs bill that could have endangered other bills from passing during the session's precious final hours.

Whiting also disputed a statement by Williams that a scheduling conflict was the reason for Senate and House Democrats not holding a joint post-session news conference.

"The Senate did not want to participate in a joint press conference. It's that simple," he said.

j.reindl@theday.com

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