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Republicans Continue Battle Over Minimum Wage Hike Ballot Question

Mal Leary reports on Maine's minimum wage.

House Democrats in Augusta have derailed an attempt by Republicans to put a competing measure out to voters on the state’s minimum wage. But Senate Republicans say the battle is far from over.

The House voted 78-67 to reject an attempt by Republicans to send a competing measure to the voters through a parliamentary maneuver to amend a bill. It was one of what may be several attempts to put forth an alternative measure that determines what the state’s minimum wage should be.

Rep. Stacey Guerin, a Republican from Glenburn, led the latest failed attempt.

“Maine citizens are asking us to intervene and offer an alternative measure to the empty promises of an extreme ballot measure that will hurt Maine workers and businesses,” she says.

That ballot measure would increase the state’s minimum wage in steps until it reaches $12 an hour in 2020, and would increase it every year after that based on inflation. The Maine People’s Alliance and the Maine AFL-CIO collected more than 75,000 signatures to get the question on the ballot this November.

House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe says there were several bills offered last year that would have increased the minimum wage by lesser amounts, and Republicans blocked them.

“For us now to look at some of the proposals that are being suggested, coming forward, it’s our feeling that it’s sort of a Hail Mary, it’s too late,” he says. “And, to put a competing measure on the ballot is really only a way to sink the other initiative.”

Several business groups are now pushing to offer voters an alternative, or competing measure, that would raise the minimum wage to $10 an hour. It’s too late to get that on the ballot by petition, but the state constitution does give that power to the Legislature.

Senate Majority Leader Garret Mason supports a lower alternative, because he says the $12-an-hour plan would force some businesses to cut workers.

“This measure that is going to be on the ballot before voters, it’s going to kill some businesses, it’s going to kill some jobs,” he says. “We have seen it happen in other places like Seattle that have raised the minimum wage to heights that just some businesses can’t hack. We really need to have an alternative measure on the ballot.”

Mason says the Senate has several options to achieve that end. He is testing the waters for some compromise proposal that would garner enough votes in both the House and Senate.

But McCabe says House Democrats have other priorities to deal with in the closing weeks of the session.

“Democrats are struggling to address issues around property tax relief, we are trying to figure what we are going to do around a supplemental budget,” he says. “For us, that’s sort of our focus.”

But Mason says the issue is an important one. He says too often the line between the concept of a living wage and the minimum wage gets blurred.

“When you are talking about minimum wage and living wages are different things,” he says. “Kids that work at McDonald’s at their first job at 16 years old, should we be paying them $12 an hour?”

Mason says Republicans believe there is time left in the session to craft an appropriate alternative to the citizen-initiated bill. Democrats remain skeptical.

Copyright 2016 Maine Public

Journalist Mal Leary spearheads Maine Public's news coverage of politics and government and is based at the State House.

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