Vermont House speeds wage hike

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MONTPELIER -- The Vermont House bucked the wishes of Gov. Peter Shumlin on Tuesday by calling for an increase in the state's minimum wage to $10.10 per hour starting in January, rather than 2017.

The House gave the bill preliminary approval after voting against a Shumlin-backed amendment to slow down the wage increase. A January 2015 start date would make Vermont the first state to break the $10 mark on its minimum wage.

"A raise in the minimum wage puts money into the pockets of low-income consumers, who immediately spend it at local businesses," Rep. Susan Hatch Davis a Progressive-Democrat from Washington, said after the House vote.

"Let's hope this modest increase gives some hope to our lowest-paid Vermonters struggling to get by," added Rep. Kristy Spengler, a Colchester Democrat.

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Others said the increase was too big for small businesses to swallow all at once.

Rep. Chip Conquest, D-Newbury said he supports raising the minimum wage, "but my concern about implementing the increase without giving small businesses the time they need to plan and adjust prevents me from doing so now."

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Prospects for passage of the faster increase appear uncertain. It is up for final approval in the House on Wednesday and the chamber rarely reverses itself between preliminary and final approval. But the bill also has to pass the Senate before heading to Shumlin's desk.

Shumlin announced his support for $10.10 by 2017 last month, traveling to New Britain, Conn., to join President Barack Obama and the governors of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island in calling for a higher minimum.

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Congress appears unlikely to pass the higher federal minimum first requested by Obama last year, and Shumlin has said he would like to see a coalition of states in the Northeast boost their lowest wages together to minimize competition between them.

Shumlin's office did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the House vote.

Vermont already has the highest minimum wage in New England -- $8.73 per hour-- as well as the lowest unemployment rate: 3.7 percent in February.

Two other states -- Connecticut and Maryland -- are planning to increase their minima to $10.10 in 2017, two years later than the House bill would have Vermont get to that level, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.


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