Maine Governor: Roll Back Voter-Approved Minimum Wage Hike

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Maine Governor: Roll Back Voter-Approved Minimum Wage Hike

Nicole Knight

Research indicates that nearly one-third of the Maine workforce would see their wages rise with the $12 minimum wage, with no negative consequences for businesses or employment.

Maine’s Republican governor believes his constituents “did not understand” the wage hike they resoundingly approved by voter initiative in the November 8 general election.

Gov. Paul LePage sent a letter Tuesday to the state legislature asking lawmakers to draft legislation to “lessen the impact” of the minimum wage initiative.

Fifty-five percent of voters approved the initiative to raise the state minimum wage to $12 by 2020.

“Although we all agree an increase in the minimum wage is acceptable, most Mainers did not understand the specifics of the referendum question they approved,” LePage said in the letter.

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The measure lifts the state’s $7.50 minimum wage to $9 per hour in 2017, with annual increases of $1 until 2020. Automatic cost-of-living increases would kick in at that point. Employees who earn tips will see their minimum pay rate go to $5 an hour in 2017, with annual $1 raises every year after that until their wage matches the minimum for non-tipped workers.

A spokesperson from the governor’s office told Rewire in an email that it’s “not uncharacteristic for the Legislature to clarify a citizen’s initiative through the Legislative process.”

The governor’s letter asks lawmakers to change the measure to phase in wage increases over a longer period, eliminate the automatic cost-of-living increase, and restore the lower base wage for tipped workers. Maine’s current minimum wage for tipped workers is $3.75, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The governor also asked lawmakers to alter another voter-passed measure that will increase income taxes.

LePage, a vehement critic of the minimum wage increase, said in October that the measure’s backers should be jailed, arguing that they are guilty of the “attempted murder” of elderly residents. LePage said lifting the minimum wage would saddle senior citizen with higher prices at stores and the supermarket.

Senate President Mike Thibodeau (R-Waldo) told the Bangor Daily News that the minimum wage initiative can be modified if necessary. But Democrats were more leery of thwarting the will of voters who backed the minimum wage hike.

Maine Democrats control the house, while Republicans hold a majority in the state senate.

“Of all the questions that passed, that’s the one that passed with the largest margin,” said Assistant House Majority Leader Jared Golden (D-Lewiston).

Mainers call their ballot initiatives “questions,” and the minimum wage measure was called Question 4.

LePage argued before the election that merchants would pass on the cost of wage increases to consumers in the form of higher prices, and that fixed-income residents like senior citizens would be hard hit.

But a study by the University of California, Berkeley suggests that the proposed Maine wage increase would cause consumer prices to rise less than 1 percent over a four-year period. Research by the Maine Center for Economic Policy indicates that nearly one-third of the Maine workforce would see their wages rise with the $12 minimum wage, with no negative consequences for businesses or employment.

Maine’s upcoming legislative session convenes January 6.