House passes minimum wage hike to $12.55 per hour, on to Senate next

Michael Bielawski/TNR

TOO COSTLY?: Vermont Rep. Scott Beck, R-St. Johnsbury, says business owners are already experiencing too much economic burden in the state.

MONTPELIER — The Vermont House voted Friday to raise the state’s minimum wage to $12.55 within two years, but the measure failed to garner enough votes to override a veto, should Gov. Phil Scott oppose the bill in the coming weeks.

Lawmakers voted 93-52 in favor of S.23, which would accelerate the increase in the minimum wage. It would bump the current $10.96 minimum wage to $11.75 in 2021 and then $12.55 in 2022, followed by increases tied to inflation afterward.

Vermont has the 11th highest minimum wage in the nation, and not all legislators were on board with the measure. The bill now moves on to the Senate for consideration.

Rep. Marianna Gamache, R-Swanton, shared her experience as a business owner in explaining her opposition to the bill.

“I am also a small business owner, so I know about the levels of all the expenses that have to do with employees,” she said. “It can be very devastating, and it’s a sad commentary that our small businesses that employ people who would have no other means of an income were it not for those small businesses, that many of those owners don’t take a salary or they take a pinch of a salary in order to make payroll.”

Rep. Brian Cina, P-Burlington, was strongly in favor of the measure.

“Until we change from having an economy that’s an extraction economy, an economy that’s been built on the backs of working people and slaves to benefit the few and not the many, [and] until we address those root issues, it will continue, and we really do need to work towards an economy that’s regenerative and that takes care of people,” he said.

Rep. Cynthia Browning, D-Arlington, who just 24 hours earlier was explaining to the House floor why she thought the economic stresses on the state were too great to justify adding a $29 million paid leave program, made similar comments on raising the minimum wage.

“I think by raising the minimum wage by this amount at this time without protection against a recession, without other modifications, I think we are making it harder for businesses to work in Vermont,” she said.

Rep. William Notte, D-Rutland, said last year he was against voting for the minimum wage bill but this year he’ll support it.

“I work and manage a store in our downtown, and I had real concerns that the bill before us last year would potentially damage my local economy. It went too far without safeguards, it was going to be too challenging a jump,” he said.  “This bill, like most good bills, it really is a compromise bill. I look at this and it’s two years of increases and then we can reassess. We have time to look at the reality on the ground and see the benefits and see if there were any negatives.”

Rep. James Harrison, R-Chittenden, suggested that this bill is even more ambitious than the one last year.

“The bill is touted as a compromise from last year’s $15 an hour bill that was introduced and passed by the other chamber,” he said. “Yet if you look at the increments, that bill went up by 72 cents in the first year and 75 cents in the second year. This compromise goes up 79 cents in the first year and 80 cents in year two,” he said.

Rep. Scott Beck, R-St. Johnsbury, says businesses are going to have to cut from elsewhere to pay for a higher minimum wage.

“They will consider a decrease in benefits, they will consider automation, they will do the same with less, they will maybe reduce workers, they will maybe reduce workers’ hours, they may take less themselves which is also less income for the state, and it may even lead to business closure in some circumstances,” he said.

Rep. Rebecca White, D-Hartford, said she is a business owner and doesn’t think it will have many negative impacts.

“It concerned me when I listened to fear-tactics being spread that all those great small businesses would either have to shut their doors or they would have to move to West Lebanon, New Hampshire, just go across the river.

“So I did my homework and I did my research to see if that was a truthful statement and in fact, it was almost the complete opposite. White River Junction and Vermont raising the minimum wage, we’ve actually seen it have a positive impact on New Hampshire employees because those employees have seen a raised wage in response to the wages that we have.”

Michael Bielawski is a reporter for True North. Send him news tips at bielawski82@yahoo.com and follow him on Twitter @TrueNorthMikeB.

Image courtesy of Michael Bielawski/TNR
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5 thoughts on “House passes minimum wage hike to $12.55 per hour, on to Senate next

  1. Interesting:
    1) Rep. Brian Cina, P-Burlington, “was strongly in favor of the measure”.
    2) Rep. William Notte, D-Rutland, “he’ll support it”
    3) Rep. Rebecca White, D-Hartford, “a positive impact ”

    And there are probably more “D” not mentioned. It’s a common thread, (connecting all the “D’s). Keep taxing and making it hard to live in VT. One research Ms White didn’t accomplish is:
    1) Why are businesses moving out of VT? (proven)
    2) Why are good jobs in VT scarce? (proven)
    3) Why are people moving out?
    4) Articles have mentioned that many young people moving out-no work. 40 from the Burlington area.

    This doesn’t seem like a “we’ve actually seen it have a positive impact”. Stating “we’ve actually seen it have a positive impact on New Hampshire employees”. I question that–NH employees have to pay VT income tax, and those “happy” NH employees I’ll bet are a very few. A lot of VT’ers work in NH instead, far more businesses.

  2. When the gov force raises the overhead costs of doing business, some changes have to be made. Raising costs of products or services, the customer has the final say. Can anyone predict—how about Rep. Rebecca White, D-Hartford? I’d like to see her research. Don’t believe it. Doing research requires reference materials, please cite.

    When you have a sales and income tax free state close by, that affects VT businesses. I see many many vehicles shopping in NH, from many states. Pay in cash and the state can’t bill you via your credit card purchases. VT will have to erect a wall to keep people in the state.

    Typical Liberal thinking. Raise taxes and costs and all will be just fine, people can and will cope-right?

    NH “Live Free or Die”, VT “Struggle to live or Die”.

  3. Beware the citations of certain ‘studies’ justifying the minimum wage, especially from the Brookings Institute.

    “There is no consensus definition of a low-wage worker, although there are several common approaches….and the definition can either be expansive and encompass more workers, or restrictive and include fewer.”

    OK…so, now what?

    For those who don’t think the economy is doing well, consider what it was doing five years ago. Is unemployment up or down? Are wages increasing or decreasing? And, for example, consider where you live…VT or NH.

    Raising the minimum wage anywhere has never changed the fact that there are, and always will be, a low wage worker cohort. Consider too, that most workers in the lowest wage cohort typically move into higher brackets within 8 years or so.

    What about job growth, the workforce, and taxes? Even with one of the highest minimum wage rates in the U.S., VT doesn’t hold a candle to NH. And NH has the lowest minimum wage rate in the U.S. Go figure.

  4. It’s all relative folks, higher wages the higher the cost of living.It is all passed on to the end consumer.

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