Vermont Governor Phil Scott discussed a number of issues while meeting with reporters at his ceremonial office in the Statehouse Wednesday.
In January, Republican Governor Phil Scott proposed a budget that would close a $70 million gap without increasing taxes or fees and matching spending with revenues. Now in the legislature, a key element of the governor’s plan, realigning education spending, is encountering resistance. Legislators also oppose a proposed shift in the date for school budget votes. That opposition is throwing a wrench into the fiscal plan.
Scott says he’s willing to negotiate with legislators but will not vary from his promise to veto anything that raises taxes or fees. “They have other ideas and we’ll work with them as long as it doesn't raise taxes and fees and doesn't and takes care, and takes care of the most vulnerable.”
Reporter Terri Hallenback: “So you have no plan to come back to them?”
Governor: “It's a long session. I mean we’re only into the first quarter.”
Governor Scott was scheduled to announce legislation Thursday to address his administration’s concerns over what it calls federal overreach, particularly the president’s executive order requesting state and local law enforcement agencies perform immigration enforcement overseen by the Department of Homeland Security. “This is something that was important to me that we arrive at consensus, that we have law enforcement and all other entities on board with we're contemplating. So it will be with all parties involved being on board. We have our general counsel and we have a lot of our legal entities, lawyers and so forth, that are fully vetting this. I think we'll be on solid ground.”
House bills have been introduced that would incrementally increase the minimum wage to $15: one by January 2020, another by January 2022. Thursday evening the House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs will hold a public hearing on the bills. Rights and Democracy Lead Organizer Isaac Grimm says both bills are acceptable although most advocates prefer the earlier implementation. “There's just so many jobs that are low paying. People get stuck in this poverty cycle and if unless we raise the minimum wage there's a lot of people who just end up stuck where they're earning barely enough to get by and there's no way they can get out of that. You know the majority of people earning under $15 an hour are over the age of 30, especially women who are trying to support their families. This is something that affects tens of thousands of working families in the state and would be a real boost to the lowest income and most vulnerable members of our population.”
But Governor Scott remains steadfastly opposed to increasing the minimum to $15. “I want all Vermonters to make more money but I believe that artificially inflating it to a $15 an hour standard just ratchets up the cost of living throughout. That this will put a lot of main street businesses at risk; the small mom and pops that we hold near and dear to our hearts won't be able to come up with that kind of money. They'll be just working more hours. So I think that it's important that we focus on the economy. If we all have the same goals about making more money, making Vermont more prosperous, then we should work together and trying to, instead of artificially inflating the value of the wages which isn't going to help.”
Reporter Neal Goswami: “Will you veto anything that artificially, as you put it, inflates wages?”
Governor: “I have not been supportive of a minimum wage increase to $15 an hour.”
Grimm counters that a higher wage would help the economy. “It is being phased in over a few years to make sure that it’s not this abrupt change that’s untenable for small businesses. And honestly when the lowest paid workers have enough money to actually spend in their community it's going to benefit all the businesses. So beyond just an argument that this is the morally right thing to do, it’s actually sound economics.”
The minimum wage hearing is scheduled from 7 until 8:30 Thursday evening in Room 11 of the Statehouse.