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Ethan: Did you feel that 4.0 earthquake in Portland on Nov. 3?
Phil: Since you and I were in a TV studio all night, I missed it.
Ethan: Portland passed four groundbreaking initiatives to build housing, reduce our carbon footprint, protect privacy and raise wages by an average vote of 60 percent!
Phil: Oh, yes, I did feel that. The reverberation is still making its way throughout Maine. I hear Portland businesses are now worried about laying people off or raising prices over that hazard pay provision. Your city council seems to have found a loophole that allows them to push that provision out for a year, giving them time to explore their options.
Ethan: More time to abuse their power, I’d say. Kind of sad honestly. They spent weeks trying to convince voters to oppose these referenda, and after they lost that vote, they came up with this questionable legal ruling. Literally within hours of their determination, the Chamber of Commerce was telling their members not to listen to the council.
Phil: I think the chamber was simply telling businesses to protect themselves from legal challenges. Nothing out of the ordinary there.
Ethan: It’s very rare that the chamber tells their members to beware of a council legal determination. Not sure I have ever seen it, actually.
Phil: Well, the chamber certainly spent four years telling their members to beware of any proposals from Mayor Strimling, so perhaps this is just their way of staying consistent.
Ethan: Ha! You may be more right than you realize. I think what frustrates people most is that the council is not accepting their duty to implement the will of the voters. Do you remember when you and I first met?
Phil: I sure do. It was when we were working to keep Maine free of casinos. I remember thinking what a reasonable dude you were, despite what my legislative colleagues said.
Ethan: Likewise. You’ll also recall that we won the big fight to stop the casino in Sanford, but we lost the fight to stop a smaller version in Bangor.
Phil: I think I see where you are going. Despite our opposition, we all then went to work implementing what the voters had passed. Even, and especially, Gov. John Baldacci who was one of the loudest opponents prior to the vote.
Ethan: Exactly. Even if there were legal issues that had to be resolved, or inconsistencies in the language, we understood what the voters wanted. Baldacci immediately put together a proposed regulatory structure and submitted it to the Legislature for deliberation.
Phil: Were I Mayor Kate Snyder, even though I agreed with her opposition to question A, I would do the same. And if that means you have to send legal fixes out to the voters, do it.
Ethan: Your last point is key. All they need to do, if they truly believe there is a technical problem with hazard pay, is send a fix to the voters for a vote in January. But they aren’t.
Phil: Getting back to my original point about the impact on small businesses, I fear it will cause some of them to close. Many don’t have the margins to meet the increased payroll, which includes increased payroll taxes, plus having to escalate the pay of those outside the hazard pay requirements to make it equitable.
Ethan: I expect Whole Foods, Shaws, and Maine Med will be able to fund the extra bucks without much problem. But Joe’s Smoke Shop, or Amato’s or even the place you and I had an adult beverage on election night, Nosh Kitchen Bar, could probably use some financial assistance.
Phil: And this is where elections have consequences. The little guy who works at the small business, who was supposed to be one of the beneficiaries of the referendum, ends up being the victim.
Ethan: Only if the government fails to help, and even then, we are already seeing that the “sky is falling” is more hyperbole than reality as businesses are beginning to say they will pay the higher wage.
Phil: Only time will tell if imposing one set of regulations and then needing to adopt another set to offset the pain leaves Portland better off.
Phil Harriman, a former town councilor and state senator from Yarmouth, is the founding partner of Lebel & Harriman, a financial services firm. Ethan Strimling, a former mayor and state senator from Portland, is the president of Swing Hard. Turn Left, which promotes progressive policy at the local, state and national levels.