At the time of this writing the governor has just vetoed the minimum wage bill. In order to truly understand a policy we must get into the details rather than just sound bytes. I am unaware of any legislator or statewide office holder who doesn’t want to help Vermonters. Contrary to Senate leader Tim Ashe’s recent comments I can guarantee that even when we disagree, the governor’s motivation in any thing he does is to help Vermonters. The legislature’s own Report of the minimum Wage and the Benefits Cliff Study Committee from December of 2017 supports the governor’s veto. One of the most important findings of this report was that the increase in wages could lead to a loss in public benefits. It is known that arbitrary increases in the minimum wage can lead to reduced hours, reduced benefits and slower wage growth as well as increased costs of goods and services. These are more pronounced with larger and quicker increases than with smaller and slower increases. The negative impacts affect those that need help the most. Without addressing how state and federal benefits are determined we cannot get more money into the pockets of low income Vermonters without taking money out of their other pocket.
We can put more money into the pockets of low income Vermonters without instituting policies that place additional cost of them. This includes fixed income senior citizens. We could increase the earned income tax credit as well as working on making things more affordable. The newest auto inspection standards for example exempts vehicles over 16 years old from emissions requirements. We had fought to get this exemption for vehicles over 10 years old. I regularly hear about the massive additional costs that this has levied on Vermonters, especially those of lower income. This has cost low income Vermonters hundreds and even multiple thousands of dollars to repair non-safety related issues or to purchase newer vehicles if the issue couldn’t be remedied. Many can’t afford these mandates and thus drive vehicles that aren’t inspected at all. Both chambers of the legislature attempted to increase the tax on home heating fuel last year. We defeated it but more bills with similar tax increases are still in the pipeline. There are so many more examples of how we make things more expensive for all Vermonters, especially those with lower incomes.
Vermont is struggling with workforce issues. The state continues to invest millions each year into workforce development/training. We hear over and over from businesses that cannot find enough workers that can pass drug tests or background checks and who lack the basic skills to fill their available positions. Increasing the education and skills of our workforce to allow more people to fill higher paying positions that already exist is an important step to lifting more Vermonters out of poverty. We want to raise all Vermonters out of poverty and into true financial independence. We cannot do that by saddling them with costly mandates that are regressive in their impact, failing to address workforce training or pushing them off the benefits cliff. Let’s not hurt the very people we purport to want to help simply so we can slap ourselves on the back. We can make changes such as increasing the earned income tax credit and exempting more vehicles from the new emissions standards to provide immediate relief while working thoughtfully toward longer term solutions.
Rep. James Gregoire