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Coakley calls for hike to minimum wage

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley addressed a breakfast meeting of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce on Thursday.

Steven Senne/AP

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley addressed a breakfast meeting of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce on Thursday.

At a Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce event this morning in front of an audience of people from banks, health insurers and law firms, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Martha Coakley spoke about income inequality in Massachusetts and called for an increase to the minimum wage.

The attorney general said “those at the top” in the state have, on average, seen their incomes grow substantially as “those at the bottom” haven’t seen any income growth at all.

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“The continued inequality does not just hurt those at the bottom, it threatens the very fabric of what we are as a Commonwealth,” she said in a ballroom at the Mandarin Oriental Boston on Boylston Street.

“We need to pass an increase in the minimum wage — on it’s own — and we should pass it now. It’s a simple matter of fairness,” Coakley continued, speaking to a crowd of more than 100 people.

Her position is not new — in a letter to supporters earlier this month Coakley said as much — but delivering a populist message to a business audience was somewhat unusual.

Later in her remarks, Coakley voiced support for earned sick time for all workers and emphasized that investment in education was a way to help reduce inequality in the state.

The state’s hourly minimum wage is currently set at $8 per hour.

Late last year, the state Senate passed a bill that would incrementally increase it from $8 to $11 by the middle of 2016 and connect subsequent hikes to inflation.

That bill is awaiting action in the state House of Representatives. Speaker Robert A. DeLeo has called for tying a wage boost to reform of the unemployment insurance system. A wide swath of businesses in the state support changes to the system.

DeLeo has said he thinks the two items should be interconnected in order to both help the poor and keep a positive business climate in the state. But progressive activists have balked, pushing for an increase in the minimum wage not tied to other measures.

After the event, Coakley told reporters she supported the state senate bill and made clear that she was strongly opposed to linking a wage hike with changes to the unemployment insurance system.

There is strong support for a minimum wage increase among Coakley’s current Democratic opponents. They are: Treasurer Steven Grossman; former Obama administration health care official Donald M. Berwick; Juliette Kayyem, a former state and federal homeland security official; and Joe Avellone, an executive at a bio-pharmaceutical research firm.

On the Republican side, Charlie Baker, his party’s 2010 gubernatorial nominee is running, as is Mark R. Fisher, a political novice from Shrewsbury.

Two independent candidates have also launched bids for governor: Evan Falchuk, an attorney and former business executive; and evangelical christian pastor Scott Lively.

Venture capital investor Jeffrey S. McCormick, an independent, is seriously considering a run as well.

Joshua Miller can be reached at joshua.miller@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jm_bos.
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