Business & Economy

Minimum wage boost will become law as House overrides Scott veto 

House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, counts votes during a roll call on whether to override Gov. Phil Scott’s veto of a minimum wage bill Tuesday. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

The Vermont House on Tuesday voted to override Gov. Phil Scott’s veto of a bill that would raise the minimum wage from $10.96 to $12.55 by 2022.

In a 100-49 vote, Democrats were able to just meet the two-thirds majority needed to counteract Scott’s veto pen. The Senate successfully voted to override the veto of the legislation, S.23, earlier this month, meaning the wage increase will now become law. 

Six out of the eight House Democrats who opposed the minimum wage legislation on the floor in January changed their votes Tuesday, delivering the support needed to enact the legislation. 

The vote was a victory for Democrats and House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, who failed to reverse the governor’s veto of a paid family leave bill by just one vote earlier this month. 

The question of whether House Democrats would be able beat the veto and rally the votes to enact one of their party’s largest priorities loomed large over the Statehouse in the past few weeks.  

The eight Democrats who previously opposed the minimum wage bill did so for similar reasons that the governor killed the legislation. 

Like the governor, some Democrats have concerns that the mandated wage increase could harm small businesses and put stress on the rural economy. 

The vote marks the first time that the Democratic Legislature has successfully reversed a governor’s veto pen since 2009, when the House and Senate overrode then-Gov. Jim Douglas’ vetoes of both a state budget and Vermont’s landmark same-sex marriage bill.

Johnson said House’s action on Tuesday “reaffirms the Legislature’s commitment to Vermont’s working families.”

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“Gradual increases in the minimum wage help ensure Vermonters have the economic resources to support themselves, which puts more money into Vermont’s small businesses and helps our communities thrive,” she said. 

Citing a study from the Joint Fiscal Office, Scott reiterated his opposition to the wage hike in a statement issued Tuesday on the grounds that the negative impact on the overall economy “will outweigh the positive benefits, especially in our more rural areas.”

Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe praised the House victory in a statement. “Today is a day to celebrate. Tens of thousands of Vermonters who work hard each and everyday can look forward to two pay increases.

Failed paid leave override weighed heavily

The question of whether House Democrats would be able beat the veto and rally the votes to enact one of their party’s largest priorities loomed large over the Statehouse in the past few weeks.  

Like the governor, some Democrats have concerns that the mandated wage increase could harm small businesses and put stress on the rural economy. 

But on Tuesday, all but two of the eight Democrats who opposed the bill earlier this month voted to enact the legislation. Reps. John Gannon, Charlie Kimbell, Theresa Wood, Dan Noyes, Lucy Rogers, and Sam Young changed their votes to override the governor’s veto.

Young, D-Glover, said the fact that the House recently failed on the paid family leave override changed his thinking. 

He said voted for the override to the show Scott that Democrats can rally support to reverse the veto pen and push Scott to come to the negotiating table with lawmakers.  

“If he knows that we can override a veto he has to actually negotiate. Get in the room, start talking about stuff, and propose alternatives,” Young said. “He could have made the bill better.”

Kimbell, D-Woodstock, said that his feelings about the “underlying principles” of the minimum wage legislation remain the same. But in considering his position on the override, he said he took “the will of the House” into consideration.

And like Young, he said the House’s failure to override the paid leave bill also weighed heavily.

“Certainly there was I think a deeper interest in making sure at least one of the priorities of the House made it across the finish line,” Kimbell said.   

According to the Joint Fiscal Office, there are 40,000 jobs in the state that currently pay less than $12.55 per hour. Over a two-year wage phase-in, workers making less $12.55 would receive $5,000 more in take-home pay. 

Rep. Lucy Rogers, D-Waterville, who voted against the legislation in January out of “a deep amount of fear for the businesses” in her community, said she still has concerns with the minimum wage increase.  

But said she voted to override the veto on Tuesday to acknowledge that “the House as whole has backed the legislation with strong support”and also recognize the compromise House and Senate Democrats made on the legislation last year.   

The minimum wage bill that originally passed the Senate last year would have raised the wage to $15 over four years. 

The House and Senate eventually agreed on $12.55 increase over two years, to assuage the concerns of more moderate Democrats who are worried about the impact of the increase on the rural economy. 

“I think this vote is the time to recognize the compromise whereas the vote in January was the time to recognize that my concern still remained,” Rogers said. 

Republicans spoke out against the minimum wage increase on the House floor Tuesday, arguing that the wage increase would lead to lost jobs, benefits and hours for workers, along with higher costs for goods and services. 

Responding to the successful override, Scott, in a statement, said once again that he believed the negative impacts that could result will “outweigh the positive benefits.” 

“These concerns were shared by legislators of both parties,” Scott said. “However, with the Legislature choosing to override these concerns, I hope for the sake of our rural communities they are correct. We simply cannot sustain more job losses or closed businesses, particularly outside the greater Burlington area.” 

Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, Rep. Heidi Scheuermann, R-Stowe, urged all of the House lawmakers who voted against the bill in January to stick with their votes, and not cave to the pressure from Democratic leaders. 

“I ask those 54 individual legislators who were sent here by the people of their districts,  that they stand strong,” Schueurmann said on the House floor. “It wasn’t the people in this building that sent you here. It’s the people back home.” 

After Democrats orchestrated their successful override, Schueurmann said she understands pressure from party leaders can be hard to overcome.  

“Politics can be really disappointing sometimes,” she said.  

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Xander Landen

About Xander

Xander Landen is VTDigger's political reporter. He previously worked at the Keene Sentinel covering crime, courts and local government. Xander got his start in public radio, writing and producing stories for NPR affiliates including WBUR in Boston and WNYC in New York. While at WNYC, he contributed to an award-winning investigation of how police departments shield misconduct records from the public. He is a graduate of Tufts University and his work has also appeared in PBS NewsHour and The Christian Science Monitor.

Email: [email protected]

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