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Vt. lawmakers to weigh minimum wage hike - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Vt. lawmakers to weigh minimum wage hike

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MONTPELIER, Vt. -

The Statehouse is quiet Friday as legislators enjoy the final day of their weeklong Town Meeting Day break. When they return Monday, the building will be filled by talk of Vermont's lowest-earners and boosting the state's economy by boosting their paychecks.

"When you put more money in the pockets of low-income workers, they spend their money," said Rep. Chris Pearson, P-Burlington.

Pearson, the leader of the chamber's Progressives, sponsored legislation he calls an "Economic Bill of Rights." Along with mandating that businesses offer paid sick days, requiring cause for an employer to fire an employee, and creating a rental housing registry, the measure would force most employers to pay at least $15 an hour. That's nearly double the current minimum of $8.73.

"Wal-Mart for instance doesn't pay their employees very well, is subsidized by taxpayers who are helping these families out. I think we need to change that dynamic and you only get there when you get all the way to a livable wage; $10.10 is a great start," Pearson said.

Pearson's proposal goes well beyond President Barack Obama's plan-- backed by Gov. Peter Shumlin-- to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 over the next three years. Wednesday, the pair shared the stage in Connecticut and said if the whole region raises rates at once, economic fallout from doing so should be minimal.

"It is a central task for all of us to build an economy that works for everybody not just for some," the president said.

Shumlin, D-Vermont, will ask the Legislature to adopt the $10.10 plan.

But Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, who runs a construction business, isn't sold on the idea.

"I'm concerned about the ratcheting effect and I'm concerned about putting the cart before the horse so to speak," said Scott, R-Vermont.

Scott says it's smarter to focus on the economy and let growth generate more wealth, rather than further burdening already strained businesses.

It's not clear exactly how many would benefit from a higher wage bar, but a detailed report should be complete in about a week.

Wage data is not generally available, so those studying the issue look at related data to glean pay rates for Vermont's population.

Experts say raising the state rate to $10 an hour Jan. 1, 2015, would likely affect about 30,000 people directly and an additional 7,000 could be expected to see raises due to the spillover effect, so that they remain higher paid than their bumped peers.

Researchers have not looked into what raising the rate to $15 an hour would do yet, but at $13.50, about 100,000 Vermonters would receive a raise. That's one-third of the state's workforce.

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