Should Vermont Raise the Minimum Wage? The Debate Lawmakers have to Undertake

By Steph Machado

Published 03/18 2014 06:55PM

Updated 03/18 2014 07:35PM

MONTPELIER - Vermont lawmakers have to decide whether workers should get a raise.

Ben & Jerry's co-founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield were hoping to sway that decision by handing out free ice cream at the Statehouse Tuesday. While they were scooping, they also had a serious message.

"When we allow huge corporations that are doing business in our state to pay poverty wages, and end up having to have our state and federal government make up the difference, I think it's criminal," said Ben Cohen.

The House General committee is weighing a bill to raise the minimum wage, but the question is--by how much? The bill currently calls for increasing it to $12.50, but the committee can amend that dollar amount. Governor Shumlin has recommended $10.10, as has President Obama.

Tom Kavet gave his advice to the committee Tuesday.

"The Vermont minimum wage in 2017 would probably be $9.35 if nothing else is done," he said. "It's indexed, so it would go up anyway. So going to $10.00 or $10.10 in 2017 is a relatively small change." Kavet says the higher the wage is raised and the sooner it's put into effect, the greater impact it will have on workers and employers--both positive and negative. He recommends neither to raise it or not raise, but encourages lawmakers to carefully study the impacts, including on Vermonters who receive benefits. While it will save the state money if those people don't receive benefits anymore, their net income might be lowered if the wage is raised just enough to take them off assistance but not enough to make up that money.

While some employers are ready to pay their workers more, others are worried it will hurt their businesses.

"They're very concerned, very nervous about what the state is potentially doing to them and to their business," said Jim Harrison of the Vermont Grocers Association. "Many of them pay more, but how much more can they pay if the bar is raised?"

The Vermont Chamber of Commerce is not outright opposing the bill, but has some recommendations. Jess Gingras says they suggest eliminating the cost of living increase, exempting high school students from the higher wage and implementing a lower "training" wage, giving employers an incentive to hire unskilled workers who could earn the minimum wage after being trained.

"At this point, it's all about making this easier for businesses to absorb," explained Gingras.

House and Senate leaders both support raising the minimum wage.

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