Compromise would raise minimum wage to $12.55 in Vermont

Published: 1/23/2020 10:06:43 PM

MONTPELIER — House and Senate lawmakers have worked out a deal on raising the minimum wage.

Under a bill hashed out in conference committee this week, Vermont’s minimum wage would go up to $11.75 in 2021, and then $12.55 in 2022. 

After 2022, wage increases would be tied to inflationary increases based on the consumer price index. Vermonters working at the current minimum wage — $10.96 — would see a $1.59 raise over two years. The bill is headed to a vote in the House on Friday. 

House leadership is not expected to have a problem getting the majority it needs to pass the minimum wage proposal, but whether it can muster the 100 votes needed for a veto override will be tested Friday.

The final $12.55 wage falls far short of a bill passed in the Senate last year that would have hit $15 an hour by 2024.

The proposal met resistance from moderate Democrats in the House, spoiling the prospects of a veto override. Republican Gov. Phil Scott vetoed a similar bill in 2018.  

At the end of the last legislative session, blue dog Democrats in the House countered with a plan that would keep the minimum wage tied to accelerated CPI increases. The House adjourned last spring amid Democratic infighting, and before reaching a compromise with the more liberal Senate.

During negotiations on Tuesday and Wednesday, some lawmakers expressed frustration that the final $12.55 figure still falls short of what’s considered a livable wage in Vermont. 

In 2018, a legislative report determined that $13.34 was considered a livable wage in the state for a person without children. But other reports have found that a minimum of $22.78 is needed to afford a two-bedroom home at a fair market rate. 

By settling at $12.55, it’s likely that more lawmakers will support the legislation, said state Sen. Alison Clarkson, D-Woodstock, allowing it to pass both chambers. Some lawmakers have voiced concerns that raising the minimum wage to $15 would cause employers to cut jobs or hours.

As a member of the conference committee, Clarkson’s aim was to find a “sweet landing spot” in order to get an increase passed. “In two years, hopefully we can impress upon our colleagues the need to move toward a livable wage and not just a false minimum wage,” she said. 

Rep. Tom Stevens, D-Waterbury, said raising the minimum wage past the $12.55 mark will likely be taken up in the next biennium.

But he didn’t expect that effort to be easy. 

“This is hard,” he said. “It’s hard to raise wages for the poor in this building.” 

Stevens said the minimum wage increase, along with a paid leave plan that passed the House on Thursday, is still a strong start to addressing income inequality in the state.

“We’re on the road to $15, we’re halfway there,” Stevens said. “But that’s not good enough.”

New Hampshire’s minimum wage of $7.25 is tied to the federal level. Republican Gov. Chris Sununu last year vetoed a measure that would have raised New Hampshire’s minimum wage to $10 per hour this year and $12 per hour in 2022.

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