• Senate panel’s wage plan highest of all
    By Neal P. Goswami
    VERMONT PRESS BUREAU | April 19,2014
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    MONTPELIER — A Senate panel advanced a proposal Friday that would boost pay for the state’s minimum-wage earners to $10.50 an hour in 2018, but it differs from a House-passed version and a plan sought by Gov. Peter Shumlin.

    The Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs voted 5-0 Friday morning on its minimum wage plan. It would raise the rate from its current $8.73 an hour to $9.15 on Jan. 1. The wage would then go to $9.60, $10 and $10.50 over the next three years. Annual cost-of-living increases based on the consumer price index would resume in 2019.

    The committee’s version was based on a proposal by its chairman, Sen. Kevin Mullin, a Republican from Rutland. Mullin said he opted to slow the increase endorsed by the House because the committee “continually heard from the business community … that they could not absorb it all at once.”

    The House version would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 on Jan. 1.

    Both versions differ from Shumlin’s plan, which calls for increasing the wage to $10.10 in increments over a three-year period. He has been touting that plan since attending an event last month in Connecticut with President Barack Obama and other New England governors.

    Mullin said his proposal was a consensus plan.

    “I think that there are people on the committee that would like it to be lower than that and people on the committee that would like it to be higher than that,” Mullin said. “... this is a case that rather than ideologically holding out for a lower rate or a higher rate, the committee has come to an agreement on a set of numbers that we’re going to try to sell to the Senate.”

    The committee’s proposal was discussed with the governor’s office, he said, which has maintained support for its own proposal.

    The plan is likely to face challenges when it hits the Senate floor, Mullin acknowledged.

    “I expect there will be spirited debate and a number of proposals,” he said. “We’ll see what we end up with.”

    Dan Barlow, public policy manager for Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, said the group is pleased there is consensus in the Legislature that the minimum wage should be raised. The group’s members prefer the House plan, however, and a faster jump to at least $10 an hour.

    The House version would give a pay increase to about 20,000 Vermonters, Barlow said, and would infuse about $30 million in overall pay into the Vermont economy.

    “It’s going to be immediately invested into the local economy,” he said. “If we try to delay that over three years we won’t see the impact.”

    The bill may head next to the Senate Appropriations Committee because it affects state coffers in two areas. Some Vermonters may earn enough to see a reduction in state benefits by the time the last increases kick in, Mullin said. And it would affect a small number of state workers, he said.

    Lawmakers will have to address how to eliminate any “cliffs” that Vermonters earning the minimum wage will experience as their wages rise above levels for assistance, Mullin said.

    “We don’t want to create incentives for people not to work,” he said.

    neal.goswami @timesargus.com
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