Minimum wage index stymies jobs bill

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(Host) A disagreement between the House and the Senate over the future of the minimum wage is threatening to derail the jobs bill at the Statehouse.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) At the beginning of the Legislative session, Governor Jim Douglas asked lawmakers to pass a comprehensive bill that is designed to create new jobs in the state. The governor also proposed increasing the state minimum wage by 50 cents an hour and indexing the rate to the cost of living.

The state’s business community reacted very favorably to the jobs bill, but it was very unhappy about the plan to index future increases in the minimum wage. The Senate put the two proposals together in a single piece of legislation, passed it by a wide margin and then sent the measure over to the House.

The House separated the two issues. It passed the jobs bill and then adopted the minimum wage rate increase. But at the urging of many Republicans, the House rejected the idea of automatically raising the rate based on inflation.

The Senate is insisting that the two issues be merged together again and it’s calling on the governor to convince the House Republican caucus to support Douglas’s original proposal. Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Welch:

(Welch) “We made a decision in the Senate to go with the jobs bill that was recommended by the governor and not play politics. And frankly if he backs off, if he capitulates on his commitment to the minimum wage after we stood by him, that’s a big problem for us.”

(Kinzel) The governor says he worked very hard just to get House Republicans to accept the wage increase and he thinks the Senate Democrats should be satisfied with a partial victory:

(Douglas) “I think the people of Vermont have to understand that if it weren’t for my leadership there would be no prospect of an increase in the minimum wage whatsoever. The House of Representatives was very unenthusiastic about passing one. But I believe it’s the right thing to do and I was able to persuade them to do it. I think the Senate Democrats have to realize that they don’t want to push too far.”

(Kinzel) A compromise plan may be in the works. It’s a proposal that would not include an indexing provision but it would mandate another increase in minimum wage in several years. It’s not clear if the House will go along with this plan.

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

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