The Vermont Senate has given preliminary approval to legislation that increases the state minimum wage to $15 an hour over a 6 year period.
The 20 to 10 vote in favor of the bill shows there might be enough support in the Senate to override a possible gubernatorial veto of this bill later in the session.
The current rate is $10.50 an hour and this new legislation would increase it to $15 an hour over the next six years.
Chittenden Sen. Michael Sirotkin is the chairman of the Senate Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs Committee. He said the bill is needed because there are thousands of Vermonters who are working full time at minimum wage jobs.
"The growing income inequality and disparity that exists in this country and the wage stagnation that has taken place in Vermont and Vermonters also are more likely to work full time at minimum wage jobs than elsewhere in New England,” said Sirotkin.
But Rutland Sen. David Soucy expressed concern that the bill would result in higher wages across the board and he says many small businesses will be adversely affected by this development.
"Those that are making $15 an hour, when someone gets a dollar raise, a 70 cent raise, they're going to now want $16 an hour, the ones making $16 are going to want $17, so I believe that it again is going to put pressure on the operations of businesses,” said Soucy.
Caledonia Sen. Joe Benning said businesses in Chittenden country are better positioned to absorb higher wages than employers in other parts of the state so he tried to limit the increase to just workers in Chittenden county.
"If we are going to take this bill and impose the same restrictions on the employer from Lyndonville as we do the employer from Church Street we are threatening the former's livelihood," said Benning.
But Chittenden Sen. Tim Ashe said workers throughout the state deserve to make a livable wage.
"We should not use that as a way to keep down the wages of people throughout the state who are experiencing the exact same economic conditions of low wage people in Chittenden county," said Ashe.
The Benning amendment was defeated on a 24 to 6 vote.
Gov. Phil Scott has made it clear that he opposes the bill. The governor is concerned it will "ratchet" up wages for many Vermont workers at a time when small businesses can't afford higher expenses.
“It's not just for those with minimum wage,” said Scott. “I would say that it would put much pressure on businesses and employers to raise the rates of everyone so this is going to have a dramatic effect."
Scott won't say if he would veto the bill because it still needs to be reviewed by the House.
A two-thirds majority is needed to override a gubernatorial veto and that's exactly how many senators voted for the bill.
The legislation is scheduled to come up for final consideration in the Senate Friday afternoon. If it passes, it will be sent to the House for its review.