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Lawmaker: Vermont hospitality industry would suffer from $15 minimum wage

By   /   February 17, 2017  /   News  /   No Comments

Photo by Bruce Parker

MINIMUM WAGE DEBATE: Rep. Heidi Scheuermann believes that, if enacted, the $15 per hour minimum-wage bills H.64 and H.93, will do the most harm to Vermont’s hospitality industry. She’s also worried about a bill proposing a $2 occupancy fee per room, per night.

A lawmaker from Stowe is sending up a warning flare to Vermonters that two minimum wage bills being considered in the state House are bad ideas.

The bills, H.64 and H.93, would increase the state minimum wage to $15 per hour. State Rep. Heidi Scheuermann, R-Stowe, a member of the House General Affairs Committee, says either bill will significantly harm Vermont’s hospitality industry.

The legislator has been warning voters and seasonal- and ski-related tourist business owners of the true costs of the wage hike.

H.64, sponsored by state Rep. Curt McCormack, D-Burlington, proposes to increase the wage to $15 gradually over three years. H. 93, sponsored by state Rep. Paul Poirier, I-Barre, would increase the wage over five years.

Scheuermann told Watchdog that resort areas around the state, as well as Connecticut Valley establishments that compete for visitors with New Hampshire, would be among the first casualties of either bill. New Hampshire’s minimum wage is $7.25.

“I certainly understand the challenges working Vermonters face in terms of earnings, and want to do all I can to ensure our economy grows so that more, and better paying jobs in the private sector are created. In my view, however, this is not the way to grow an economy,” Scheuermann wrote in a recent newsletter to constituents.

She added that business owners from different political backgrounds are concerned by the proposed wage increase.

“You can see their point of view: both bills represent a 50 percent increase from the current minimum wage. Businesses are saying, please, can you (Montpelier) just give us a break? Dial it back. Let us do what we need to do.”

Former Democrat Gov. Peter Shumlin signed a graduated increase to the minimum wage into law three years ago. Under the 2014 law, the state’s minimum wage was increased to $10 per hour, which took effect in in January. It will jump to $10.50 next year and be indexed to inflation starting in 2019.

RELATED: Vermont governor signs minimum wage hike at bakery unaffected by law

Last week, the House General Affairs Committee took testimony on H.64 and H.93, some in support and some against.  Scheuermann said some of what she heard isn’t necessarily what the majority of Vermonters are thinking.

“I grew up in Stowe where there are lots of hospitality businesses,” Scheuermann said. “It’s a challenging industry, and the higher the costs to the industry, the more challenging it will get. That’s where I think these two bills will hurt the most.”

She noted that two prominent business people in her district, Mark Vandenberg of the Sun and Ski Inn, and Audra Hughes of Commodities Natural Market, oppose a $15 minimum wage.

While Scheuermann supported the 2014 law with its inflation indexing, she’s dubious about another increase that isn’t tied to inflation as well. She said she believes both bills have their roots with the Bernie Sanders 2016 campaign and his vision of a federal $15 minimum wage.

Democrat Rep. Jim Condon of Colchester has heard from pro-growth, pro-business voters in Chittenden County, too.

“In my district, the concept of hiking the minimum wage over and above the schedule we set a few years ago is not very popular,” Condon told Watchdog. “My district is a little more conservative than most, frankly, so I can’t judge what the statewide feeling is on this issue.”

Scheuermann has another reason for opposing the bill: She owns Allegro Properties, a Stowe-based property management and development firm.

“I’m a business person, too” she said. “And while my business pays more than the minimum wage, if it goes to $15 the upward pressure progression means the person making more will deserve and want more, so costs from housing to all kinds of services will also be forced to go up. Then you can never catch up.”

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Lou Varricchio is bureau chief for Vermont Watchdog. He has 20 years experience in print and broadcast journalism, including newspaper work in Pennsylvania and also in Vermont, where he was formerly managing editor of multiple New Market Press newspapers. He was a senior science writer at the NASA Ames Research Center in California, and appeared as the co-host on “Our Changing Planet,” a mini-series produced by the Upper Midwest Aerospace Consortium and distributed by Prairie Public Television. Lou has written, produced and hosted several science documentaries distributed nationwide through Public Radio International and American Public Radio. He is a member of Investigative Reporters and Editors.