April 19, 2019
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Business groups are showing their minimum wage hypocrisy

George Danby | BDN
George Danby | BDN

You’re probably aware of the minimum wage proposal that’s on the November ballot. It would raise the state minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020.

You may have also heard chatter about a potential “competing measure” that involves a 50-cent increase each year until 2020, capping out at $10 an hour, and doesn’t increase the tipped wage.

The four groups driving the competing measure are the Retail Association of Maine, the Maine Innkeepers Association, Maine Restaurant Association and the Maine State Chamber of Commerce. In a statement, they describe their proposal: “This is a sincere and real proposal from our coalition to help Mainers, who are hard-working, proud people, and deserving of a raise that is sustainable for the Maine economy. Ultimately, doing so is good for the workforce, good for Maine families, and good for businesses.”

There is only one problem with this “sincere and real” proposal. It’s neither.

Here’s what it is: a cynical attempt to prevent any raise for minimum wage workers.

Last year, the Legislature considered a minimum wage proposal that I sponsored, LD 92. It was a commonsense compromise that would have gradually increased the minimum wage by 50 cents a year while leaving the tipped wage as is. Sound familiar?

As a moderate, I didn’t want to shock the system with a massive increase. I do, however, believe in the dignity of the Maine worker and understand that things cannot get better if they stay the same.

LD 92 certainly had opposition, much of it from more liberal members of my own party who felt it didn’t go far enough. I held firm, and brave little LD 92 set sail on what would become a very tumultuous journey.

From the outset, LD 92 was in the crosshairs. At its public hearing, opponents threw around words such as “kill,” “strangle,” “hemorrhage” and “death” to describe what it would do to businesses.

Just who was leading this opposition? The same four groups currently supporting the competing measure.

That’s correct. The groups desperately advocating for a sustainable raise now are the very same ones who vehemently opposed my bill, despite the fact that their proposal is taken nearly verbatim from mine, except that mine capped out at $9.50 an hour rather than $10 an hour.

As my bill advanced, these groups turned up the heat even further. But LD 92 sailed through the House of Representatives. It seemed common sense and moderation would win out.

People got nervous. The lobbying intensified in the Senate. Ultimately, it worked. LD 92 died in the Senate by a single vote. There’s no doubt these groups made the difference.

Now, these same organizations are again feverishly working the State House halls, arguing the opposite side of the same issue. They’re doing so because they know that if they can get their measure on the ballot, both will almost certainly fail.

I believe minimum wage workers deserve a raise. But for either measure to go into effect, one must get a majority of the vote, or there would be no increase. The ballot question with the highest tally, so long as it garners at least 33 percent of the vote, would be carried over to the next statewide election, delaying an increase yet again.

Some of my legislative colleagues who opposed LD 92 did so because they were against any increase or because of the belief that there should be no such thing as a minimum wage. While I disagree, I respect them and their beliefs and applaud their consistency. What I cannot abide by is hypocrisy.

Voters should know that the legislators and their corporate handlers pushing the competing measure had the opportunity to support a virtually identical bill just months ago. And that the competing measure’s backers worked tirelessly to kill it.

I’m not one to believe that opinions can’t change years later or in light of new information. It’s not uncommon for views to evolve, but it’s exceedingly rare for anyone to do a 180-degree turnaround in the same Legislature. There is no new information, no extenuating circumstance. There is only the height of hypocrisy.

We’ve probably all heard the adage, which is seldom enjoyable, but rings as true in the State House today as it did in our youth. Sometimes, you have to live with the consequences of your actions.

Rep. Dillon Bates, D-Westbrook, is a first-term legislator who serves on the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee.


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