Kurt Wright Takes His Stand Against the $15 Minimum Wage

Passionate debates have been common across this legislative session, especially surrounding ideologically motivated bills. Nowhere was this more prevalent than with regard to the $15 minimum wage. Some legislators discounted evidence and testimony from expert witnesses that a $15 minimum wage would stunt economic growth, cripple many small businesses, cost low income Vermonters multiple thousands of jobs, leave poor families with fewer resources due to the “benefits cliff,” and do nothing to mitigate income inequality. But many legislators chose to heed these warnings.

On May 8, during floor debate on S.40 (the $15 minimum wage bill) one representative suggested that all representatives “knew in their hearts” that raising the minimum wage to $15/hour was the moral thing to do. Because it would help the poor.

Rep. Kurt Wright (R-Burlington) offered a terrific response that is worth reviewing in detail. He said, “That is someone else’s perspective about what the right thing is (to raise the minimum wage to $15/hour). My perspective is that we are going to hurt some of the people we are trying to help. Job loss, benefit cliffs etc. I’ll tell you Madam Speaker, that I grew up in a family that was at poverty level. So, I certainly don’t need any lectures about putting myself in the shoes of someone else. One thing my mother never said was, ‘Wait around and see if the government will increase the minimum wage for me to get by.’”

Wright continued, “Madam Speaker, one of the other comments made today was that I’m hearing a whole lot from the general committees, because, and I’m paraphrasing here (minimum wage advocates saying) ‘they did the work, heard all the testimony, they did a great job.’ But they didn’t (do a great job). We know from the amendment earlier that was defeated that the state economist wasn’t asked to do the study on impact for the rural economy in Vermont. (The economist) said it was a worthwhile study. Why didn’t he do it? He wasn’t asked to do it (by the committees).”

If our legislators want to pass policy like the $15 minimum wage, they ought to be aware of how this policy would hit the poorest rural areas of Vermont, so that they don’t mistake minimal “average” impact for major impact on the areas of Vermont that can least afford to raise wages. The fact that committee chairs refused to request the rural impact study seems to insinuate that the committee chairs knew an impact study might cast doubt on the rosy situation they seemed to argue for.

While S40 passed by a slim margin 77-69, Governor Scott veto stands at the ready. We shall see in the days to come if there are enough representatives like Kurt Wright to sustain Scott’s veto and stand against a $15 minimum wage.

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The Ethan Allen Institute is Vermont’s free-market public policy research and education organization. Founded in 1993, we are one of fifty-plus similar but independent state-level, public policy organizations around the country which exchange ideas and information through the State Policy Network.

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