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Primary Source: Majority of Upper Valley Reps. Back $15 Minimum Wage

  • Valley News political columnist and news editor John Gregg in West Lebanon, N.H., on September 20, 2016. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.


Wednesday, May 09, 2018

By an almost 2-1 margin, Vermont House lawmakers from the Upper Valley this week voted in support of raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024.

The measure passed on second reading on Tuesday on a 77-69 tally, then got final approval by voice vote on Wednesday. Valley lawmakers supported the measure, 11-6.

Vermont currently has a $10.50 an hour minimum wage, while New Hampshire is tied to the federal minimum wage of $7.25. Maine, at $10 an hour, has the second-lowest minimum wage in New England.

State Rep. Sarah Copeland Hanzas, a Bradford Democrat who owns The Local Buzz cafe on Main Street, argued in favor of the higher wage during floor debate. She said on Wednesday that Vermont’s higher wage even “allows us to draw good employees from New Hampshire” and also has helped stimulate the local economy.

Ensuring that workers have “more chance of covering their basic needs” also will help make their lives less stressful, she said.

“Your employee is never going to get to work on time if they can’t afford to put snow tires on their car,” Copeland Hanzas said, noting it is important to “advocate for the dignity of an affordable minimum wage.”

Voting against the $15 wage from the Valley were Republican state Reps. David Ainsworth, of Royalton; Bob Frenier, of Chelsea; Rodney Graham, of Williamstown; Jim Harrison, of Chittenden; Independent Ben Jickling, of Randolph; and Democrat Charlie Kimbell, of Woodstock.

State Rep. Gabrielle Lucke, D-Hartford, didn’t vote on Tuesday.

Kimbell, the co-owner of Elevation Clothing, said the Woodstock store already pays well above the minimum wage and that he believes the best way to increase personal incomes and help the Vermont economy is to provide workers with the skills for open jobs already paying more than $15 an hour.

“Those jobs exist now and companies can’t find enough employees to fill them,” Kimbell said by email on Wednesday. “At the same time, a hike in the minimum wage adds a burden to small businesses in Vermont who are already struggling to stay in the black. Ninety percent of businesses in Vermont employ less than 20 people. I am concerned about the ability of small businesses to absorb higher employee costs.”

House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, said the increase over time gives employers “ample time” to adjust and prepare.

“Better wages help our state economy, strengthen our workforce, improve our local communities, and moves families to self-sufficiency,” Johnson said.

The measure already has passed the Vermont Senate, 20-10, where state Sen. Joe Benning, R-Danville, was the only lawmaker from the Upper Valley to vote against it.

Republican Gov. Phil Scott has said he likely would veto a $15 minimum wage.

In the Ring

A Springfield Republican is making his second run for one of Windsor County’s three seats in the Vermont Senate. Randy Gray, 48, said he is a “right-leaning centrist” and a “strong believer in the ‘original’ Republican values” of limited government intrusion, individual freedom, free enterprise, “constitutional compliance” and fiscal responsibility.

Gray, who has worked in sales and office administration, said he wants to cut business taxes and opposes any form of a carbon tax. He won 8,148 votes in 2016, about 6,000 votes fewer than any of the Democratic officeholders, state Sens. Dick McCormack, of Bethel, Alison Clarkson, of Woodstock, and Alice Nitka, of Ludlow.

Meanwhile, Brenda Siegel, the executive director and founder of the Southern Vermont Dance Festival, said she intends to run for governor as a Democrat. A political activist from Newfane, Vt., Siegel said she feels low-income single mothers aren’t “reflected” in the ranks of the Vermont Legislature, or around the country.

“People in my position don’t run for office because they don’t have resources and supports that others have,” Siegel said in a news release.

She joins a crowded Democratic primary field that includes environmental advocate James Ehlers, former utility executive Christine Hallquist and middle-school student Ethan Sonneborn.

Norwich native Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham Law School professor who has run as a progressive Democrat for Congress and governor in New York, said on Tuesday that she is considering running for attorney general in the Empire State. This comes after Eric Schneiderman resigned this week after being accused of physically assaulting four women.

“I am seriously considering running for attorney general. It is a major decision and will take real thought,” Teachout said on Twitter. Teachout also is serving as campaign treasurer for actress and activist Cynthia Nixon, who is challenging New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the Democratic primary.

John P. Gregg can be reached at jgregg@vnews.com.