AUGUSTA, Maine — A legislative committee voted along party lines Friday to pass a bill that would raise the state’s minimum wage to $9 an hour by 2016, then raise it annually by the same percentage as the consumer price index.
The Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee voted 8-5 to approve the bill. It now heads to the House floor.
The legislation, LD 611, would raise the minimum wage annually in three, 50-cent increments starting July 1, 2014. After rising to $9 an hour in 2016, the wage would then increase annually based on changes in the consumer price index.
The legislative committee Friday morning initially put off action on the bill, seeking more information on how an increase to the state’s $7.50 minimum wage would affect low wage earners’ ability to qualify for public assistance. The committee then resumed work in the afternoon and passed the measure.
More than two dozen people testified on the measure during a public hearing last week, with union representatives, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland and low wage earners testifying in support. The Maine State Chamber of Commerce and other trade groups representing employers opposed the bill. Gov. Paul LePage’s administration also opposed it.
Sen. John Cleveland, D-Auburn, wondered if a rise in the minimum wage could lead to what he called “unintended consequences.”
“Unfortunately, a number of folks who work at or near the minimum wage are also eligible for other benefits,” he said, citing MaineCare and housing and food assistance. “If you go over the income level even by the slightest amount, you then lose that eligibility.”
“If people were making a decent wage, they wouldn’t be on food stamps,” said Rep. James Campbell, an independent from Newfield.
Maine, where the minimum wage has been $7.50 an hour since 2009, is one of 19 states with a minimum wage above the national level of $7.25 an hour, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. In New England, only New Hampshire, which uses the federal minimum wage, has a lower minimum wage than Maine. Vermont’s minimum wage, $8.60 an hour, is the highest in the region and is indexed to inflation.