The political battle lines are taking shape in what will likely be one of the more contentious policy debates of the 2018 legislative session.
On Thursday evening, during their annual pre-session caucus, Senate Democrats affirmed their commitment to passing a $15 minimum wage before the end the legislative biennium. While lawmakers have yet to determine how long the state should take to ramp up to the $15 threshold, Washington County Sen. Ann Cummings says there’s agreement that “$15 is really where we should be.”
“It’s the minimum of what’s required that would allow people to live on their wages,” said Cummings, the Democratic chairwoman of the Senate Finance Committee.
Senate Democrats will not surprisingly face stiff resistance to the proposal from their colleagues across the aisle. And on Thursday, House and Senate Republicans held a press event to formalize their opposition to the plan.
“We want to go on the record today … that we feel very strongly that that would be a mistake,” House Minority Leader Don Turner said Thursday. “Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour would actually hurt Vermonters more than help them.”
Republicans say the higher minimum wage would ripple across the Vermont economy in the form of job reductions, or reduced hours for fulltime employees. Rep. Bob Bancroft, from Westford, says the proposal would also compel employers to seek more business-friendly labor markets out of state.
“We’re not an island,” Bancroft says. “And in fact raising the minimum wage to $15 is a great economic stimulus package for the state of New Hampshire.”
Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, who says passing the $15 minimum wage will be a “personal priority” for him next year, says the Republican “blowback” is predictable.
“You’ll always hear … because some people will try to scare people, ‘Oh my god, they’re proposing to go to this extreme number tomorrow,’” Ashe said Thursday.
Ashe says that the Senate proposal will in fact phase the $15 wage in over time, thereby minimizing economic disruption. And Ashe says increasing the minimum wage is the single-most effective measure legislators can deploy to improve the financial lot of low-wage workers.