House removes cost of living adjustment from wage bill

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(Host) The House Friday afternoon gave its approval to legislation increasing the state minimum wage by 50 cents an hour. But the House removed a provision from the bill that would have linked future increases to the cost of living index.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) What a difference a day can make. On Thursday, with no debate, the House gave its preliminary approval to legislation that increases the state minimum wage and indexes future increases to the cost of living. On Friday, the bill sparked nearly three hours of debate – most of it centered on the indexing provision.

The issue divided House members closely along party lines. Many Republicans opposed the indexing provision even though it was backed by Governor Jim Douglas. Most Democrats supported it.

Shelburne Republican George Schiavone said only three states have a similar indexing feature, Alaska, Oregon and Washington. And Schiavone says adopting the provision in Vermont would hurt the state economy:

(Schiavone) “And for us to be the fourth state way over here in the east all by itself sends a very strong anti business message in my opinion.”

(Kinzel) Rutland Representative Virginia Duffy said the indexing plan would have a negative impact on the state’s small business community:

(Duffy) “The cost of living increase that we are considering will result in two things, layoffs and an increase in the cost of good and services neither of these outcome will be beneficial to those earning minimum wage.”

(Kinzel) But Burlington Democrat Johannah Donovan argued that the indexing plan would allow workers to keep pace with inflation without annual battles in the Legislature over the minimum wage issue:

(Donovan) “This is in my belief, a very great question of fairness. It’s an issue of social justice and I think we need to do it today.”

(Kinzel) Burlington Progressive David Zuckerman said the increase in the minimum wage pales in comparison to the salary increases many corporate executives are earning:

(Zuckerman) “Why are those folks’ salaries going up so much faster than the CPI, and yet the folks who are doing the work on the ground level are falling farther and farther behind in their ability to pay their basic bills?”

(Kinzel) The House voted 77 to 63 to remove the indexing provision from the bill. It then gave its final approval to the rest of the legislation. The measure now goes to the Senate for its consideration. It’s expected that the Democratic majority in the Senate will restore the indexing provision to the bill.

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

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