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Press Herald editorial board opposes local initiatives advanced by Democratic Socialists

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The Portland Press Herald’s editorial board isn’t buying what the Southern Maine Democratic Socialists of America are selling, and it’s a beautiful thing to see.

In a rare rebuke of far-left, hyperpartisan political pipe dreams, the Portland Press Herald editorial board issued an editorial Wednesday in opposition to a number of local initiatives that will appear on the ballot in Portland this November.  

Questions A, B, C, D and E on the Portland ballot are being advanced by People First Portland, a campaign of the Southern Maine Democratic Socialists of America and their allies.

Question A would increase Portland’s minimum wage to $15 an hour and require an elevated wage of $22.50 during times of state or local emergency. Question B would ban the use of facial recognition technology by local law enforcement. Question C is a localized “Green New Deal” proposal as irrelevant and ineffective as the one advanced in the 129th Legislature by Rep. Chloe Maxmin. Question D is about rent control, a policy rejected by the voters in Maine’s most liberal city as recently as 2017. Question E would enact new restrictions on short-term rentals and dramatically increase the fees required to register these units.

In a nutshell, the Press Herald’s editorial board opposes these initiatives because they’re too complicated to be decided by a simple up or down vote, though the rationale they use to convey their opposition to some of these questions is interesting.

Question A, for example, would be incredibly costly for those doing business in the city. A $15 minimum wage is a “reasonable idea” the editorial board writes, but a $22.50 wage during emergencies (or $33.75 for overtime) goes too far.

“Some employers may have the cash on hand to pay that much, but many others will not and be forced to shut their doors or cut hours. This could end up hurting the people it intends to help.”

This same rationale could be applied to any increase of the minimum wage, though it appears the editorial board has decided all employers in Portland can afford a $15 minimum wage. Could increasing the city’s minimum wage to $15 also result in businesses shutting their doors and cutting hours, or would this only occur when the wage is raised to $22.50?

To be clear, when wages rise artificially due to minimum wage increases, payroll costs on businesses increase without compensating growth in productivity or sales. For businesses operating on small profit margins, a minimum wage increase gives them no choice but to reduce their operations, lay off workers, cut back hours, transition to automation or relocate to another state. When the minimum wage drives businesses to reduce costs, the first victims are low-wage, low-skill workers – the same people minimum wage laws are supposed to help, as the PPH editorial board correctly noted.

In other words, this reality is no less real if the minimum wage is artificially raised to $15 rather than $22.50 – the economic underpinnings remain the same.  

While the use of facial recognition software by local law enforcement should raise privacy concerns among the public, the Portland City Council already took action on this issue back in August, making Question B obsolete. The same can be said for Question E due to the council’s recent actions to regulate short-term rentals. This initiative would undo the council’s work and unnecessarily raise short-term rental registration fees from $100 to $1,000.

And much like the Green New Deal bill recently passed in the Maine Legislature, Question C would have no discernible impact on climate change whatsoever, and likely make it more expensive to build in Portland.

Finally, Question D is another attempt at enacting rent control, one of the most destructive economic policies a jurisdiction can enact. As I wrote in the Press Herald during the last rent control battle in Portland:

“Economists have long agreed that rent control does more harm than good when it comes to affordable housing. According to a 1992 survey by the American Economic Association, 93 percent of economists agreed that ‘a ceiling on rents reduces the quality and quantity of housing available.’ In another context, this is what progressives call ‘settled science.’ Like most clique progressive initiatives, with rent control, the outcome sought will never be achieved. Government cannot command the free market, and when it tries, it often fails.”

This time around is no different. Socialist attempts to regulate rent are futile and will result in the city becoming even more unaffordable for low-wage earners.

In closing, the paper’s editorial team writes that these issues are too complicated to be decided at the ballot box and should instead be subject to “a deliberative public process that involved the whole city and not just one group of people.”

I couldn’t agree more.

About Jacob Posik

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

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