Maine House rejects bill to increase minimum wage

Posted May 24, 2011, at 6:56 p.m.
Last modified May 24, 2011, at 7:15 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine House of Representatives, along sharp party lines, voted down a bill Tuesday that sought to increase the state’s minimum wage by 25 cents next year and by 50 cents two years from now.

LD 447, sponsored by Rep. John Tuttle, D-Sanford, failed by a vote of 77-69 during a floor vote just one week after the Legislature’s labor committee recommended a vote of ought not to pass.

Before Tuesday’s vote, House Democrats argued that raising the minimum wage would boost the economy and help slow the need for public assistance, something Republicans have targeted through welfare reform measures.

“Twenty five cents an hour is a small increase that will make a big difference for the working poor in our state,” said Tuttle, the ranking Democrat on the Labor Committee.  “What’s pocket change for some can make the difference between keeping the lights on or putting food on the table.”

Republicans, however, said raising the minimum wage would be unduly detrimental to small businesses that form the backbone of Maine’s economy. They suggested workers should be more aggressive in asking their employers for a raise in lieu of a state-mandated increase.

“Once again, we have determined that the market is the best indication of what wages should be,” said Rep. Andre Cushing of Hampden, assistant House majority leader.

Maine’s last minimum wage increase came in October 2009, bringing the rate to $7.50. From 2006 to 2009, the minimum wage increased incrementally by 25 cents each year. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour and individual states range from $5.15 in Wyoming to $8.67 in Washington.

Tuttle’s bill was submitted in large part to help bring the wage in line with cost of living increases.

“Minimum wage barely makes the grade with the rising price of commodities — these working families are being squeezed,” said Rep. Rob Hunt, D-Buxton, who serves on the Labor Committee.

The Senate has not yet voted on LD 447, but it is not expected to support a wage hike.

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