Gov. Peter Shumlin wants to increase the state's minimum wage from $8.73 per hour to $10.10 per hour, by 2017.
Shumlin's pitch matches that of President Barack Obama, who's calling for the same target at the federal level, from the current rate of $7.25 per hour. Three other New England governors have joined the chorus, too.
At a press conference Monday announcing his position, he said too many Vermonters have been left behind in the state's economic recovery after the recession.
More than 16,000 Vermonters earn less than $9 per hour, according to a report prepared by legislative economist Tom Kavet and Joint Fiscal Officer staffer Deb Brighton and presented to the House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs in late February. About 24,000 more wage earners made up to $10 per hour in non-agricultural sectors as of 2012, the report states.
Vermont is creeping toward recovery from the deep recession of 2008. Tenuous progress is often invoked at the Statehouse as reason to avoid or minimize any new regulations or burdens on businesses.
Opponents point especially to the inevitability of "wage creep." Raising the minimum also pressures businesses to elevate the higher pay tiers, they argue, so the cost of raising the minimum wage extends far beyond just minimum wage jobs.
"I'm a governor who's for wage creep," Shumlin said with a smile. He wants everybody to make more money, and he suggested that members of the business community who oppose raising the minimum wage are misguided.
"I don't think anyone in Vermont thinks it's fair," Shumlin said, to only earn about $14,000 per year as a full-time employee. He said raising the minimum wage is good economic policy, good for business, and the compassionate thing to do.
His proposal would raise the minimum about 45 cents annually for three years, starting in January 2015. Current state law inches it up to keep pace with inflation in the Consumer Price Index. That would be suspended until the minimum reaches $10.10, Shumlin said.
Alternative proposals already under discussion include H.552, which would bump the minimum up to $12.50 per hour. A different bid to establish a "livable" wage as the minimum would set $15 per hour as the floor.