Vt. Senate OKs $15/hour minimum wage

MONTPELIER — The Vermont Senate on Thursday advanced a measure that would raise the state’s hourly minimum wage to $15 by 2024.
The bill, S.40, would incrementally hike the state’s minimum wage over the next six years, from the current level of $10.50 per hour.
Sen. Michael Sirotkin, D-Chittenden, who introduced the bill, raised concerns about income disparity between high and low earners, and about stagnation of wages in Vermont. Vermonters are more likely to work full-time minimum wage jobs than working people in other New England states, he said.
Several Republicans offered amendments and spoke against the measure. Some raised concerns that business-owners would not be able to afford the increase; others said they would like to see Vermonters earning higher wages, but they should do so by developing their skill set.
“If people get the skills and we provide opportunity to train in a variety of fields, then we will be able to get them to a living wage, not just the increase in the minimum wage,” Sen. David Soucy, R-Rutland, who was opposed to the measure, said during the floor debate.
The bill, which came out of a study committee that met through last summer, won preliminary approval on a 20-10 vote. It was expected to pass in a second vote Friday and move to the House.
Rebecca Kelley, spokesperson for Gov. Phil Scott, said he will consider the final bill “but as it stands, there are a number of concerns to be addressed.”
“While Gov. Scott agrees with the goal to increase wages, and has supported economically responsible increases to the minimum wage in the past, the approach currently proposed comes with a lot of risk to our economy, businesses and increased costs to consumers,” Kelley said.
Lawmakers considered several amendments.
One, offered by Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, would limit the increase in minimum wage to Chittenden County, the most densely populated area in the state.
Benning said there is a “night and day” difference between the economy in the area around Burlington and the Northeast Kingdom.
The Senate defeated Benning’s proposal, 6 in favor, 24 opposed.
Another amendment, offered by Sen. Peg Flory, R-Rutland, would allow businesses to pay less than the minimum wage if they offer employees benefits packages that reach a certain threshold. It was defeated, 11-19.

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