The lobbying has included full-page advertisements in The Courant that call for Sunday sales and tell consumers to head to http://www.EndCTBlueLaws.org. The group's website says that it is a "grass-roots movement'' to push for Sunday sales. But the website also shows that the main funders of the association are major corporations such as Stop & Shop Supermarkets, Big Y Foods, ShopRite and other food stores that have combined retail sales statewide of $5.7 billion annually.
The clash over Sunday sales has been a perennial battle at the Capitol, going back several governors. Republican M. Jodi Rellwas against it, but Malloy stepped forward with a proposal this year after remaining on the sidelines last year. Malloy's support changes the dynamic because many Democratic legislators routinely voted in favor of Malloy's agenda during his first year in office.
Super Bowl Sunday.
Raising Minimum Wage
House Republican leader Larry Cafero of Norwalk said he is not sure if the Democratic-controlled legislature will move in lock-step to approve Malloy's agenda in the same way that it did in 2011.
"He made it happen last session,'' Cafero said. "It remains to be seen whether he can duplicate that success rate with his own party. We'll have to see. He had a honeymoon period with his own party. They wanted to be accommodating and supportive. Time will tell whether that will continue in this next session.''
Cafero says that Malloy and the legislature need to get the state's fiscal house in order before moving on to other issues. He said, for example, that the timing is bad for potentially raising the minimum wage under a proposal by House Speaker Chris Donovan. If approved, the increase in the minimum wage from $8.25 to $9 could occur as soon as July — with a second increase to $9.75 per hour in 2013.
The state budget has been teetering on a deficit despite revenue gains from the largest tax increase in Connecticut history that raised tax rates on income, sales, corporate profits and cigarettes, among other tax increases.
"We're not on solid ground. We're on quicksand," Cafero said, reflecting what small business owners have told him. "You want to raise the minimum wage? Now? Not after we've just hit every small business with the highest level of taxes in our history.''
Malloy himself was relatively lukewarm in his initial comments regarding Donovan's minimum-wage proposal, but the matter will clearly be debated over the coming months. Although some Democrats strongly favor increasing the minimum wage, the idea is opposed by the Connecticut Business & Industry Association and the National Federation of Independent Business.
One of Malloy's signature initiatives for the session is education reform. Although the improvements would cost millions of dollars, the changes represent a tiny fraction of the overall costs in a state that spends more than $5 billion annually on education at the state and local level.
Malloy said he is simply trying to guarantee universal pre-K education for families that cannot afford it. The system would remain the same for the majority of families who currently pay for preschool.
"In Avon, Simsbury, and Darien, every child who wants one, gets one,'' Malloy said of early childhood education. "I am not calling for three years of kindergarten. What I'm calling for is that no child be denied a pre-kindergarten learning experience because of their parents' financial circumstances. … Cathy and I, our boys had pre-K because we could afford it.''
Senate President Donald Williams, the highest-ranking senator, said his 22-member Democratic caucus is focused like a laser beam on trying to kick-start the still-sluggish economy and reduce the state's unemployment rate.
"Our focus needs to remain on jobs and the economy,'' Williams said in an interview. "There will be many other issues, including education, energy, the response to the reports on the hurricane and the October snowstorm. But the first, second, and third priority will be jobs and getting the economy moving.''
Williams did not rule out discussions on controversial issues in an election year, including repealing the death penalty.
"If there are the votes to repeal the death penalty and replace it with life in prison without parole, then we will take it up,'' said Williams, adding that no vote count has been taken. "It will come up on the Senate floor if we have the votes.''
Courant Staff Writers Jon Lender and Daniela Altimari contributed to this report.