(This story was first published in the April 17, 2014 edition of the Vermont Standard.)
By Katy Savage, Standard Staff
A bill that passed in the house would raise the minimum wage about $2 next year, instead of waiting three years, as was originally intended.
The bill, which passed the house in an 87 to 57 vote last month, will bring the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour beginning next January.
The original proposal, which both Gov. Peter Shumlin and President Pro Tempore of the Senate John Campbell supported, was to raise the minimum wage in January 2016. Campbell thought it was best to phase it in to give businesses that are still recovering from the recession.
“I feel very strongly any additional pressures at this time could have devastating effects on our economy,” he said.
At $8.73 an hour, Vermont currently has the fourth highest minimum wage in the country, according to CNN Money. It ranks behind Washington ($9.32 an hour), Oregon ($9.10 an hour) and California ($9 an hour). The bill would make Vermont the first state to have a minimum wage higher than $10 an hour.
Some thought the steep hike was necessary to bridge the gap between the “minimum wage” and the “livable wage.”
“The more we separate the minimum wage and the livable wage the more people will be dependent on the government for help instead of earning an amount that will support basic living,” Rep. Alison Clarkson said.
But there is concern that the bill could devastate small businesses, which are already struggling with small profit margins.
“A lot of businesses are holding their own,” said Rep. Thomas Terenzini of Rutland.
One report indicated that 250 people would lose jobs if the minimum wage were to rise so steeply, he said.
“Small business needs to be protected in Vermont,” Terenzini said.
Associates at the Danforth Pewter, which has locations in Vermont and Virginia, start at $9.25 an hour. Sales and Marketing Vice President Bram Kleppner estimated the hike would affect about 15 positions at the store, but he doesn’t think it will have a significant impact.
“It will not put us out of business,” Kleppner said.
Danforth Pewter even supports the change.
“We recognize how difficult it is to pay your rent and pay your bill and pay your gas,” Kleppner said.
The hike may also impact the Barnard General Store.
“It might be a little harder for them to adapt quickly,” said Rep. Teo Zagar who works at the store part-time.
The owners of the store declined to comment. But, even with the potential upsets to businesses, Zagar is concentrating on Vermont workers and working families.
“A lot of people are struggling to keep up and pay the bills,” he said.
A recent informal poll conducted by Sen. Bill Doyle’s recent informal poll found the majority of Vermonters were in favor of the wage increase — about 70 percent were in favor, 20 percent were not and 10 percent were unsure.
More than 13,000 people participated in the survey.
“The question is not whether or not we should raise the minimum wage, it’s how much and how soon,” Zagar said.
Rep. John Bartholomew of Hartland was in favor of raising the wages as soon as possible.
“I’m a big believer that if you’re going to hire somebody to work for you, you need to give them a livable wage,” he said.
In the long term, Campbell thought the bill would help give struggling Vermonters a better life.
“By increasing the minimum wage we’ll be able to assist them so they won’t have to receive help from the state assistance programs,” Campbell said.