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Posik: Portland Voters Reject Minimum Wage Increase

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On Tuesday, voters in Portland rightfully shot down a ballot question that would have increased the city’s minimum wage to $15/hr, or double the statewide minimum wage. Proponents of the initiative, mostly Green Independent activists, have made several efforts to boost the minimum wage in Portland, but they were outspent and out-strategized by their political opponents in this election.

The referendum was denied by Portland voters 58 percent to 42 percent.

Opponents of the ballot question, including several local business owners and the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, raised more than $120,000 to fight the question. A PAC called “Too Far, Too Fast” aided in coordinating television and radio ads leading up to the election that helped put the initiative to rest. The Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce donated $50,000 alone to battle the referendum.

Business owners in Portland feared what all opponents of minimum wage increases fear – that hikes in the minimum wage will negatively affect business, specifically small business, which is the backbone of our state’s economy.

Additionally, the Portland City Council already passed a measure earlier this year that will increase the city’s minimum wage to $10.10/hr, starting on January 1 of next year.

“Too Far, Too Fast” wasn’t just a clever title for the PAC, it is the truth behind what was being proposed in Portland.

If companies in Portland are currently paying their employees the minimum wage, doubling the required amount they have to pay their workers would cripple their businesses entirely. Small business owners in Portland don’t have reserve money sitting around in case minimum wage legislation is passed in their city. Also, the same business owners who opposed the $15/hr minimum wage referenda said they support the increase to $10.10/hr that has already passed, and have been making arrangements to be ready for the increase since the measure was approved in July.

In other words, their opposition to this referendum wasn’t an effort to keep some Mainers in poverty, or to keep their own business expenses low. Instead, it was an effort to keep their doors open, because what the referendum proposed truly was too far, too fast.

Liberals have this unconscious perceived notion that, because major corporations exist, all businesses and industries should be regulated at the same rate. But, most small businesses in Maine could not afford this increase, regardless of their locations, which is what makes passing legislation like this at the municipal level so dangerous. Minimum wage requirements were never meant to be set at the municipal level. Federal and state level governments handle minimum wage issues because when they make these decisions, it levels the playing field for all businesses.

When city’s take matters like minimum wage increases into their own hands, the economic stability of our state becomes compromised. Businesses with roots in their locations are forced to abide by regulations set by overreaching municipal governments, while their neighbor just over the town line (who offers the same service) doesn’t have the added expenditure of a separate municipal minimum wage.

Green Independents wanted to boost the minimum wage because they believed it would decrease the inflated cost of living in Portland.  But, the change they sought would do the exact opposite of what they wanted to achieve. If this measure had passed, businesses in Portland would have been forced to either lay off employees or increase the price of their goods and services, just to afford the increased wage they would have had to pay their workers.

While Portland business owners won this fight, the Maine People’s Alliance, one of the largest liberal organizations in the state, is looking to put a referendum on the ballot for next year’s election cycle that would gradually increase the state’s minimum wage to $12/hr. If the state can pass this ballot initiative as a whole, it will likely impact many working Mainers. But, if liberal activists continue to pursue this issue at the municipal level, it may further divide income disparities in Maine and incentivize businesses to move out of the areas where this legislation is enacted.

About Jacob Posik

Jacob Posik, of Turner, is the director of communications at The Maine Heritage Policy Center (MHPC) and the editor of The Maine Wire. He formerly served as a policy analyst at MHPC. Posik can be reached at jposik@mainepolicy.org.

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