Minimum Wage – Vote Explanation

I ran for office to provide a voice to people who too often find themselves marginalized and forgotten at decision-making tables. My top priority is to advance policies that will shrink the unsustainable income gap and reverse the concentration of wealth in the hands of a very few. One of the best ways to do this is by incentivizing work and compensating workers at a level that allows them to meet basic needs.

For me, increasing the minimum wage to a livable wage (which $10.10 is not, but it’s a start) is one of the key solutions to failed trickle-down economics policies, which have led to the death of the middle class and a sharp increase in poverty. The declining value of the minimum wage has created a growing population of working poor who require substantial government benefits just to survive. Tax payers are footing the bill for unsustainable business practices.

As a small business owner recently told me, workers want to know that they’ve earned their paycheck by bringing value to their employer. Working full time and still needing government assistance to put food on their family’s table must rank among the most disheartening experiences for working Vermonters. I’ve heard about wanting “hungry” workers, but I hope we don’t take that term literally.

Like earned sick days, which unfortunately never made it to the House floor for a vote, the minimum wage is a women’s issue. Women make up the majority of the service-sector employees who are subject to minimum wage, and with the increase in women-headed low-income households, the minimum wage is a key policy intervention to improve outcomes for families in poverty. A recent report by the Brookings Institute reviewed a number of studies on school readiness, and found that “one of the most robust findings from these studies is the connection between parents’ economic resources and their children’s early development.” The consequences of keeping wages low are far-reaching and cumulative.

I’m very sympathetic to the concerns of small businesses, and will continue to seek policy solutions that create an environment where both workers and employers can thrive. I dislike the proposition that you are either pro-business or pro-worker. How are these separate interests? Conversations about jobs in Vermont need to be amended to specify sustainable jobs. Low wages lead to a chain of dependency: low wage workers rely on government programs to meet their basic needs, even when they are working full-time. Employers are then as a consequence also dependent on these government programs – which need to be funded through the revenue schemes that many businesses find onerous. We can’t have it both ways – we either need to embrace policies that advance sustainable employment or accept that we will have a persistent “underclass” that can’t get ahead or even stay afloat without substantial government assistance. I voted to end the underclass, or at least take a step in that direction.

 

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House Passes Tax and Budget Bills

On Friday the house passed the budget and tax bills. No member is ever entirely satisfied with these bills- that’s the nature of compromise. I voted for Paul Poirier’s unsuccessful amendment to raise additional funds for 3 Squares nutrition programs to offset federal cuts, and I voted for both the miscellaneous tax bill and the budget. This was my floor speech in support of the budget:
Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of the difficult balancing act achieved by the Appropriations Committee in crafting a budget to keep our state functioning. In particular, I want to voice appreciation for the committee’s attention to the needs of crime victims. We often hear of caseload pressures that drive budget costs in various state departments – but victims aren’t part of any official caseload. They are a diffuse constituency, and their needs are often subsumed by the complex and costly process of catching, prosecuting, and incarcerating offenders.

The Vermont Center for Crime Victim serves this diffuse constituency, and works to ensure that the professionals who engage with victims of crime are well-trained and supported. I commend the Appropriations committee for filling the $600,000 budget hole for the Center. Doing so maintains the Domestic Violence Trainer position that prepares law enforcement to respond appropriately to this horrendous violation of human rights, and ensures that Vermonters working to rebuild their lives in the wake of crime have the supports they need and deserve.

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Legislative Update – the 2014 Session is underway

I was thrilled to find that the second year of the biennium is light on ceremony, allowing the legislature to get right down to business on Day 1.  This year committee web pages have been established to increase transparency around our work. Now all documents we are considering will be posted on our committee page for public review. You can find our weekly schedule, copies of draft bills and amendments, and witness testimony all posted in real time. Committee pages can be accessed here.  Or read on for a brief summary of the issues before the House Judiciary Committee to date: Continue reading