U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy got multimodal to test out goNewHavengo—the city’s new initiative to get people to walking, biking and busing around town instead of driving cars—and to talk about the fight for more federal dollars for mass transit and small businesses, and the fight for a $15 minimum wage.
When he’s not in Washington D.C., Murphy said, he makes it a point to hop on a CT Transit bus as he did Friday for about 45 minutes to talk to people.
At nearly 2:30 p.m. Murphy, and a crew of city officials boarded a packed B1Brookside - Southern Connecticut State University bus from The Green, bound for Edge of the Woods on Whalley Avenue. The senator, who lives in Cheshire, found plenty of riders to chat up.
“When you ride the bus you don’t hear about what’s on MSNBC, Fox News or CNN,” he said. “People don’t talk about Donald Trump, Benghazi or Hilary Clinton’s emails. People talk about housing, schools, jobs and safety. They talk about how to make their budget work for the week and how to keep their kids safe through the summer.”
Murphy serves on the Senate Committee on Appropriations. He said Connecticut needs more help from the federal government on mass transportation. “We took a clean, on time bus that was packed at 2:30 in the afternoon,” he said. “You can see the demand for mass transit.”
He said the current transportation bill under debate does not put enough money into mass transit, pointing out that 4 out of 10 mass transit rides in the country happen in the greater New York region, which includes New York City, New Haven and New Jersey.
He vowed to “fight like hell” to get more money for mass transit, but acknowledged that the Republican-controlled House and Senate, and specifically the Tea Party faction in the House, “wants the federal government out of the business of funding transportation.” “That’s what we’re up against,” he said.
Murphy did have some good news about the expanding the New Haven to Hartford rail line. He participated in a meeting this week that included Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and the president of Amtrak, at which a way forward was made for getting the finances for the project back on track. The project is currently over budget.
“It will not be fully operational for another four years,” Murphy said. “We’re building along an existing train line but it has been neglected for a long time.” In addition to modernizing the rail line, the plan envisions building new stations and parking.
While at Edge of the Woods, the senator applauded the city’s creation of a Small Business Academy on Dixwell Avenue pointing out that much of the recovery from the Great Recession could be attributed to small businesses. But he said that it still remains “way too hard to access capital” and that “federal lending standards remain too strict.”
Murphy said while there has been some relief for small businesses through the health care reform bill and improvements to the Small Business Administration, there have to be pathways for small businesses to access capital.
One issue weighing heavily on the mind of Edge of the Woods owner Peter Dodge (pictured at right in the above photos) is the push for a $15 an hour minimum wage. Dodge supports increasing the federal minimum wage, but he said, “fifteen dollars seems high.”
Murphy said he’s signed on to support an increase to a $12 an hour minimum wage, but with the current Republican control of the federal purse it will be hard to get there. At the very least, he said he would like to see the federal government move closer to where Connecticut is headed as a state so that surrounding states aren’t given any competitive advantage. The state minimum wage is slated to rise gradually to $10.10 an hour by January 2017.
The senator said he understands the concerns of business owners like Dodge who are trying to navigate how to absorb a much higher minimum wage when they currently pay about $9 an hour. He pointed to cities like Seattle and Los Angeles that have gone to a $15 minimum wage and seen their economies take off.
“Whether we like it or not that additional money doesn’t go into savings,” Murphy said. “It goes right back into the economy.”
Dodge said even if the minimum wage goes up to $12 he still has to balance what to do about the employee who already makes $12 an hour.
“It wouldn’t be fair to leave that employee at that wage,” he said. “His wage should go up too.” Dodge said that would likely mean he’d have to raise prices at his store, but his competitors would likely be raising their prices too if the minimum wage goes as high as $12 or $15.