Does Vermont need a $15 minimum wage?
"I don't reach into my entrepreneur's pot of gold and suddenly come out with, 'All right, we'll pay everybody more,'" business owner Mark Bouchett said.
Democratic leaders say they are focused on trying to lift those Vermonters who are lower on the economic spectrum. That could mean a significant hike in the minimum wage. The Senate is eyeing a $15 per hour minimum wage bill.
"The Senate will be moving a bill," said Sen. Tim Ashe, D-President Pro Tem.
House Speaker Mitzi Johnson says the House favors sending the governor a paid family leave bill. But, she says the House has an open mind to raising the minimum wage in 2018.
"It's about creating that level playing field, that economy that works for everyone," said Johnson, D-South Hero.
Johnson says too many Vermonters are without a nest egg if trouble strikes.
"Right now there are a little over one-quarter of Vermont households, 27 percent of Vermont households, can't survive a small emergency," she said.
The Vermont Department of Labor says nearly one-third of the workforce would be impacted. More than 106,000 jobs pay between $10 and $14.99 per hour. That's 30 percent of all jobs in the state. Another 10,600 jobs pay $15 exactly. And 10,800 more jobs-- mostly restaurant and tipped positions-- pay between $5 and $9.99 per hour.
"People talk about income inequality. Tens of thousands of people are making ten bucks an hour right now," Ashe said.
Mark Bouchett is a fourth-generation retailer. He owns HomePort on Burlington's Church Street Marketplace. Bouchett says businesses that are just getting by will be harmed by another jump in the minimum wage. Some will be forced to shut down. He says workers will only see a temporary boost in their pockets until the price of goods and services reflect the higher mandated wage.
"Ultimately, the cost of living catches up to that," Bouchett said. "If you don't think that's the case, then you need to go read an economics book."
The Legislature is not likely to find an ally in Gov. Phil Scott. R-Vermont. He remains opposed to raising the minimum wage. A spokeswoman tells WCAX News the governor does not think raising the minimum wage is the right way to make the state more affordable.