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After Final Approval In Senate, Fate Of Minimum Wage Bill In Governor's Hands

Looking up at the stone columns and gold dome of the Vermont Statehouse.
Elodie Reed
/
VPR
A bill to increase the minimum wage in Vermont was approved by the Senate Thursday. Its fate now rests with Gov. Phil Scott.

After giving final approval to legislation that would increase the minimum wage in Vermont, Democratic lawmakers are now waiting to see whether their Republican governor will allow the bill to become law.

Legislation approved by the Senate Thursday would increase the minimum wage to $12.55 an hour by 2022.

It’s less than the $15 an hour many Democrats and Progressives had hoped for, but Chittenden County Sen. Michael Sirotkin said it’s still a sizeable raise for the 40,000 or so low-wage workers who would see a bigger paycheck as a result of the bill.

“And if you are a full-time worker working at minimum wage in the state Vermont over these next two years, you will receive $5,000 more in wages,” Sirotkin said. “That’s important to people living at the edge.”

"And if you are a full-time worker working at minimum wage in the state Vermont over these next two years, you will receive $5,000 more in wages. That's important to people living at the edge." — Sen. Michael Sirotkin

The fate of the minimum wage legislation now rests with Scott, who expressed reservations Thursday about its impact on rural economies and said elected officials shouldn’t upset free-market forces with a “one-size-fits-all” wage policy.

“A convenience store, let’s say up in Lunenburg, for instance, is far different than the convenience store in downtown Burlington or in Williston or in Shelburne,” Scott said.

Scott added that record-low unemployment in Vermont will lead or organic growth in wages.

“I believe supply and demand works. I believe wages are rising,” Scott said. “I believe the shortage of labor in Vermont is having an effect on that … But every region is different economically, and that’s my concern.”

Sirotkin, however, said wages are not rising. He said an analysis by the Legislature’s economist showed that wages have grown by 0.6% over the past year. And he said 62% of minimum-wage employees in Vermont work fulltime.

"I believe supply and demand works. I believe wages are rising. I believe the shortage of labor in Vermont is having an effect on that ... But every region is different economically, and that's my concern." — Gov. Phil Scott

“It’s not teenagers working for pocket change living with their parents,” Sirotkin said.

Scott vetoed a $15 minimum wage bill in 2018. He hasn’t said yet whether he’ll do the same to the scaled-back proposal approved Thursday, and lawmakers may be hard-pressed to override him if he does.

When the House of Representatives took up the measure last week, 54 lawmakers voted against the bill. That means leaders in that chamber would have to turn at least four "no" votes into "yes" votes in order to reach the supermajority needed for a veto override.

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