AUGUSTA, Maine — The Legislature on Thursday took a first step toward quashing local efforts to raise the minimum wage in cities such as Bangor and Portland.
In a 20-15 party line vote, Senate Republicans approved a bill proposed by Gov. Paul LePage that would prevent municipalities in the state from enacting their own minimum wage ordinances. The bill faces further votes in the House and Senate.
The Senate’s vote on the bill, LD 1361, An Act to Promote Minimum Wage Consistency, took place as activists in some of the state’s largest cities are considering minimum wage increases at the local level, including Portland, Bangor and South Portland.
At $7.50 per hour, or $3.75 per hour for tipped workers, Maine is one of 29 states with minimum wages higher than the federal level of $7.25. The minimum wage issue always raises questions about the proper place of government in the economy, but LePage’s bill also stoked debate over local control — a keystone of Maine politics.
“We’re always talking about home rule and the ability of municipalities to have a say in their own best interest,” said Sen. John Patrick, D-Rumford, who voted against the bill. “I think that’s a good thing.”
Proponents said that while local control is important, the Legislature — not local councils or selectmen — must be the final arbiter of minimum wage in Maine.
Sen. Amy Volk, R-Scaborough, who supported the bill, said local minimum wages that differed from the state’s minimum could needlessly confuse businesses who serve multiple communities.
Consider a business based in a city with one minimum wage that traveled to do business in a community with a different one.
“Who’s going to keep track of when those crews are working in Portland and have to be paid at the higher rate, as opposed to when they’re in Falmouth or Scarborough, and need to be paid the state rate?” she said. “Factoring in different municipal wages would just be a complete mess.”
The Senate on Thursday also approved LD 92, another minimum wage bill, in an 18-17 vote, with Republican Sens. Eric Brakey of Auburn and Michael Willette of Presque Isle joining Democrats in opposition. The version of the bill approved by the Senate would raise the state’s minimum wage incrementally to $9 per hour by October 2018, while loosening several of the state’s restrictions on child labor — a move opposed by many Democrats.
The House has passed a different version of the same bill, which would incrementally raise the minimum wage to $9.50 by October 2018.
If the two chambers cannot come to an agreement, the bill will die.
Meanwhile, frustrated with the Legislature’s seeming inability to enact a minimum wage increase, the state AFL-CIO and the Maine People’s Alliance, a progressive group, are gathering signatures to put a statewide minimum wage increase on the ballot in 2016.