Gov. Phil Scott at a Statehouse press conference last week.
Gov. Phil Scott vetoed a 15-percent increase in Vermont’s minimum wage over two years, setting up another possible override fight with the legislature.
The governor had until midnight Monday to take action on S.23, which calls for hiking the state’s minimum wage from $10.96 per hour to $12.55 by 2022. He released a statement at 8:30 p.m. announcing the veto, his second in as many weeks.
The boost would have been more modest than the $15 minimum wage that many lawmakers had sought to have in place by 2024. But it still proved too much for the Republican governor, who said the increase would raise the cost of goods, harm economic growth and disproportionately affect rural areas.
“It’s critical to recognize that we share the goal of Vermonters making more money. I also believe Vermonters should keep more of what they earn, which is why I can’t support policies that increase the costs of living,” Scott said. “I believe this legislation would end up hurting the very people it aims to help.”
Scott gave similar explanations for his 2018 veto of a $15 minimum wage bill.
Seeking to address concerns about the impact on rural parts of the state, House and Senate lawmakers struck a compromise last month that limited the increases to two years and tied future increases to inflation.
“Today Governor Scott prevented 40,000 Vermonters who earn less than $12.55 an hour from getting a much-needed raise,” Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden) said in a statement. “For those working full-time at the current minimum wage, the vast majority of whom are over the age of 22, the Governor’s veto just wiped out nearly $5,000 of income.”
Ashe called Scott’s stated concerns about affordability “hollow.”
Attention will now turn to whether lawmakers can force the bill into law over the governor's objections.
The compromise bill passed the Senate with 23 yes votes, comfortably above the 20 votes needed in that chamber to override a veto. But it received just 93 “yes” votes in the House, short of the 100 needed to override.
Scott may be calculating that Democratic House leaders won’t be able to muster 100 votes, just like they failed last week to override his veto of a mandatory paid family and medical leave bill.
A coalition of Democrats and Progressives could only manage 99 “yes” votes, an embarrassing miscalculation and crushing defeat for Democrats’ signature legislation.
Democrats who opposed the minimum wage bill last month will now have to decide whether they will again allow Scott to dictate the outcome of a key party priority.
Sen. Michael Sirotkin (D-Chittenden) hopes that doesn't happen, and called it "very wrong" to veto a 50-cent hourly raise for Vermont's lowest earners. The governor's action "is in direct conflict with addressing the universally recognized problem of income inequality, and is also inconsistent with his repeated mantra of protecting Vermont's most vulnerable citizens," Sirotkin said in a statement.
He added: "With strong majorities in both the public and the legislature, I hope and believe this will not be the final word on increasing Vermont's minimum wage this year."
Disclosure: Tim Ashe is the domestic partner of Seven Days publisher and coeditor Paula Routly. Find our conflict-of-interest policy here: sevendaysvt.com/disclosure.