Speed becomes issue on wage hike
By Neal P. Goswami
VERMONT PRESS BUREAU | April 08,2014
MONTPELIER — A Republican House member will look to slow the minimum wage increase backed by House Democrats today before it advances to the Senate.
An amendment sponsored by Rep. Kurt Wright, R-Burlington, will look to raise the minimum wage from its current $8.73 per hour to $10.10 over a three-year period — the same plan Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin has publicly backed.
The bill to be debated on the House floor this week would immediately increase the wage to $10.10 on Jan. 1.
“I think that to put a $1.40 increase on small businesses primarily, because that’s where minimum wage jobs are, all at once, is very difficult for small businesses to absorb,” Wright said.
Under his amendment, the minimum wage would jump to $9.19 on Jan. 1, go to $9.64 on Jan. 1, 2016, and hit $10.10 on Jan. 1, 2017.
Two House committees — General, Housing and Military Affairs, and Appropriations — have already approved the bill calling for an immediate rise to $10.10 without Republican support.
The General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee began the session considering a jump to $12.50 per hour, based on a bill introduced by Rep. Paul Poirier, an independent from Barre.
Raising the minimum wage has gained steam in the Legislature since Shumlin and other New England governors attended an event last month with President Barack Obama calling for a $10.10 rate.
Shumlin has called for the increase to come in three increments over three years. Wright said being aligned with the governor on the issue is based on an effort to slow the push by House Democrats.
“The political reality of it is we know there’s going to be a minimum wage bill this year. That’s the political reality,” Wright said. “Would I rather have it phased in as Gov. Shumlin and President Obama have called for? Absolutely.”
Still, Wright said approval of his amendment will be difficult and will likely be opposed by House members on both sides.
“I suppose I could fail because Republicans don’t want to do anything and Democrats want to do more,” he said.
Other states have chosen to raise their minimum wage rates in increments.
Maryland’s Legislature gave final approval Monday to legislation that will eventually raise that state’s minimum wage to $10.10 by July 2018. Connecticut already passed legislation to raise its wage to $10.10 on Jan. 1, 2017. And both chambers in the Massachusetts Legislature have voted to raise the minimum wage — to $10.50 over the next two years in the House and to $11 over three years in the Senate.
Vermont’s Senate majority leader, Philip Baruth, a Democrat from Chittenden County, said the upper chamber seems more likely to support a phased increase.
“If I had to say at the moment, I would say that the governor has been very persuasive, and that is the position that most people have heard about and feel like they can support,” he said.
Baruth said he plans to introduce an amendment when the bill reaches the Senate to raise the wage to $10.10 in 2016, splitting the difference between the governor and the House bill.
“This may be our last bite at the apple for a while, and I think that people who are on minimum wage need more than what they will get,” he said. “I think splitting the difference between the two is not just common sense but the wise public policy.”