Kevin Kutys, a Wallingford native and a junior at Central Connecticut State University, was one of a lucky students Monday who won a raffle for a ticket to hear President Barack Obama speak at his school Wednesday.
“I look at it like a once-in-a-lifetime thing, to get to see a president speak,” Kutys said. “Something cool to tell your kids.”
Obama will be visiting the New Britain university Wednesday to discuss increasing the minimum wage from the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour, to $10.10 by 2017.
Kutys is pursuing a major in management information services, and said that despite his excitement, his exposure to a couple of “basic economics classes” have made him wary of the president’s plan.
“As someone who works for less than $10.10, you’d think I’d be in support of it, but even in basic economics classes we learn that raising the minimum wage raises the cost of living, and I’m just not exactly sure of the negative effects it could have,” he said.
Brooke Steneck, also a junior from Wallingford, wasn’t as lucky as Kutys in securing a ticket to the event, but said she thinks that the issue of raising the minimum wage is an important discussion to have.
“The majority of CCSU students, including myself, are working full or part-time while paying their way through college,” she said. “Because of this, I believe that the topic of the minimum wage increase is relevant to our students as well as the rest of the country.”
She added that she “supports the intention of the raise, but its success is going to be based on how well the government can execute it.”
In Connecticut, the minimum wage is currently $8.70, set to increase to $9 on Jan. 1, 2015, and to $10.10 by the 2017 deadline.
States can set their minimum wage above the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour, but not below it.
In addition to Gov. Dannel Malloy, Obama will be joined Wednesday by three other Northeastern governors, all Democrats: Govs. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, Peter Shumlin of Vermont, and Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island.
Obama has put an emphasis on increasing the minimum wage as well as overhauling immigration laws in his second term.
Republicans in Congress, however, oppose raising the national minimum wage, “arguing that jobs will be eliminated, unemployment will rise, and the economy will suffer if the government forces businesses to cut bigger paychecks for their workers,” according to an Associated Press report.
The governors’ joining Obama’s campaign this week is part of the president’s 2014 strategy to act on his own to help the middle class because he thinks Congress isn’t doing what it should.
Obama says a higher wage will help lift hard-working people out of poverty, giving them more money to spend and businesses more customers and higher profits.
Malloy, an outspoken advocate for raising the minimum wage, has agreed, saying that widening income inequality is hurting middle-class families and the economy.
Students and faculty in the political science department at CCSU, however, are skeptical of how much Obama’s speech Wednesday will accomplish in the long run.
“I don’t think any of my students are expecting this to be a magic wand that solves everything,” said Paul Petterson, chairman of the political sciences department at the university. In a leadership class of primarily political science majors Monday morning, Petterson said they discussed the likelihood that Obama’s appearance would be useful in achieving his objective of raising the minimum wage, or whether it would just go back to “political dynamics” afterward. Petterson said his class leaned toward the latter.
Another issue plaguing students and faculty has to do not so much with the topic of Obama’s speech, but with the logistics of his arrival.
Steneck, who commutes from Wallingford, said she’s concerned about getting to the university once secret service members shut down the surrounding roads.
She added, “a lot of professors have already canceled classes,” but two out of three of Steneck’s are still on for Wednesday.
“It’s a little stressful, but we’re OK, we’re staying positive,” Steneck said.
Kutys said that many professors were making accommodations in terms of later due dates for students who had tickets to attend.
“Most of my professors are actually encouraging us to get tickets and skip their class to go to the speech, if we can,” Kutys said.
The logistics haven’t dampened excitement on campus, however.
Steneck said, “Generally, there’s a lot of excitement that Central got recognized in such a way that the president is coming.”
Free tickets will also be available to the public on a first-come, first-served basis from 4 to 8 p.m. today at the William Detrick Gymnasium in Kaiser Hall, limited to one per person.
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