Senate supports minimum wage increase

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(Host) The Vermont Senate has given preliminary approval to legislation that will automatically increase the state minimum wage based on the consumer price index. The vote on the plan was 19 to 4, and Governor Jim Douglas says he’ll support the bill.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Backers of the bill say the legislation is needed to insure that the lowest paid workers in the state are able to keep up with inflation. Currently, the state minimum wage is seven dollars an hour. The federal rate is $5.15.

Under the proposal, the rate would be adjusted every year based on the consumer price index. For instance, if the inflation rate is 3 percent this year, the state minimum wage rate would go up by 21 cents.

Chittenden County Senator Jim Leddy says the legislation is a small but essential step to help lower income workers. It’s estimated that 60 percent of all people who make less than eight dollars an hour are over the age of 30:

(Leddy) “And I would hope that we could take this very modest step to an annual basis: look at the minimum wage paid to the lowest wage earners in our state and offer a modest cost of living adjustment to help them deal with the challenges and burdens of everyday life.”

(Kinzel) Rutland Senator Hull Maynard urged his colleagues not to support the legislation because he’s concerned that the plan will put too much pressure on small businesses.

(Maynard) “This minimum wage doesn’t just impact one level of the economy. This is a ratcheting up…and it works its way up the system, putting pressure on businesses that are having a hard time meeting payroll.”

(Kinzel) It’s likely that the bill will reach the governor’s desk in the next few months. When it does, Governor Jim Douglas says he’ll sign it.

(Douglas) “I’m very concerned that, year after year, we have debates in this building that are quite distracting about raising the minimum wage, and it seems to me reasonable to tie it to the cost of living over time. The Legislature increases it at about that rate anyway, so why not make it automatic and avoid that very difficult and distracting debate on an annual basis.”

(Kinzel) The measure will come up for final approval in the Senate later this week.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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