Vermonters would soon earn a minimum of $10.10 an hour under legislation advanced by the House on Tuesday.
The question during the day long debate wasn’t whether the wage rate should be raised but how quickly it should happen.
The state minimum wage is currently $8.73 an hour. The bill endorsed by the House General Affairs committee increased the rate to $10.10 an hour beginning next January.
Rep. Jean O’Sullivan says the increase would affect roughly 20,000 workers in Vermont and would help pump a lot of money into the state economy.
“Give these hard working Vermonters a raise, put $30 million back into the Vermont economy and save taxpayers $3 million,” said O’Sullivan. “That’s why your committee voted to make this effective in 2015.”
Rep. Cynthia Weed says it’s critical to implement the increase as soon as possible.
“This raise in the minimum wage is a step in the right direction and will also save the state money in renters’ rebate and other state benefits,” Weed said. “While empowering employees to work with dignity to support themselves independently away from state assistance so that they can enjoy a good quality of life.”
Republican Rep. Kurt Wright urged House members to phase in the increase over a three year period. He noted that Gov. Peter Shumlin supports this approach.
“I think that we’re kidding ourselves here if we think that we can solve the problem of low wage earners by government stepping in simply by increasing the floor of the minimum wage,” said Wright. “Mr. Speaker, that’s not how it is done, Mr. Speaker, we need to have low wage earners with better job training so they go to better jobs.”
Middlebury Rep. Paul Ralston was one of a small group of Democrats to support the phase in plan.
“It’s been suggested that we, by raising the minimum wage to $10.10, we’re going to pump $30 million into the Vermont economy and of course that’s not true,” said Ralston. “We’re going to take $30 million from one part of the Vermont economy and put it into another part of the Vermont economy.
The House defeated the phase in approach by a vote of 83 to 63.
It’s likely that the House timetable will be changed in the Senate. That’s because Senate President John Campbell says increasing the rate all at once will put too much pressure on many small Vermont businesses.
“We have a responsibility to this state to keep it viable,” said Campbell. “And I believe that the pressures when you weigh it out, balance it out, it would be better to be done over a three year period.”
The legislation also calls for a study to review the impact that a livable wage rate of at least $12.50 an hour would have on the state economy.