AUGUSTA, Maine — A referendum question that would raise Maine’s minimum wage to $12 per hour by 2020 qualified for the November ballot, the secretary of state’s office said Tuesday.

The effort was led by the progressive Maine People’s Alliance, and it could set off a bid from pro-business groups to get the Maine Legislature to put a proposal for a smaller increase on the ballot as a competing measure.

Supporters of the referendum submitted more than 75,000 valid signatures in support of the effort, according to a news release from Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap’s office. That was more than the threshold needed to qualify for ballot access, which is just over 61,000.

The plan would increase Maine’s minimum wage of $7.50 per hour to $9 in 2017, then by an additional $1 each year until it reaches $12 in 2020, after which it’ll be indexed to inflation. It also would raise Maine’s tipped minimum wage from $3.75 per hour to $5 in 2017, after which it will rise each year until it reaches the non-tipped minimum wage.

The Maine People’s Alliance and labor unions announced the bid last year, with Matt Schlobohm, the Maine AFL-CIO’s executive director, saying “wages haven’t come close to keeping up” with increasing costs of living in Maine.

Now, the bill goes to the Legislature, which can either enact it or send it to the voters. But it can also advance a competing measure. That’s where the Maine State Chamber of Commerce could look for a way to beat the effort back.

Peter Gore, a lobbyist for the group, said earlier this month that the increase would be “particularly difficult for small businesses in this state to swallow,” and he said it may press the Legislature to put a smaller increase on the ballot, but that nothing has been decided yet.

Portland and Bangor passed municipal minimum wage increases in 2015. Portland’s took effect at the beginning of this year, and Bangor’s is due to take effect Jan. 1, 2017. However, if the statewide measure passes, Bangor’s new ordinance will be moot — replaced by a higher minimum wage that will apply across the state.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...