- The Maine Wire - https://www.themainewire.com -

Maine DSA pushing four ballot questions in Portland, including $18 minimum wage

The Maine chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) recently announced it had filed paperwork with the city of Portland to put four referendum questions on the ballot in November 2022. Called the “Livable Portland Referenda,” the proposals include an $18 minimum wage, a requirement that landlords provide 90-day notices of rent increases or evictions, a restriction on short-term rentals, and a restriction on the number of cruise ship passengers who can disembark.

Portland mayor Kate Snyder had no comment on the DSA’s proposed ballot initiatives.

According to a press release from the DSA’s local campaign committee, the campaign is a bid to make the city livable “not only for business owners, not only for landlords, developers, and seasonal residents, not only for the 1%, not only for tourists.”

“Portland must be livable for Portland’s workers, Portland’s tenants, Portland’s families and Portland’s most vulnerable—the entire working class that calls Portland home,” the DSA continued. 

The first initiative would not only increase the city’s minimum wage to $18 per hour over three years, it would eliminate the city’s wage for tipped workers. The wage for tipped workers would also rise to $18 over three years. They would earn that wage plus tips, if patrons still tipped. 

The DSA’s minimum wage proposal would also expand the types of workers eligible to receive it. Taxi drivers, personal shoppers, delivery workers, and individuals working for a unit of government would receive the $18 per hour minimum wage.

The initiative would also create a Department of Fair Labor Practices to “ensure wage and worker safety laws are enforced.”

“The proposed question on the ballot regarding minimum wage is ill conceived,” said Steve DiMillo, owner of DiMillo’s On The Water in Portland. “Market forces are already driving wages up. At DiMillo’s, we have always enjoyed a stable work force because we pay above market rate wages, as does any other successful business in Portland. The end result of adopting the highest minimum wage around will be a loss of jobs. Businesses can’t afford to pay such high entry-level wages and will find ways to do more with less staff. What kind of message does this send to potential employers moving to Portland? The proposed minimum wage would be the highest in New England.”

DiMillo also expressed concern about the elimination of the tip credit.

“There isn’t a server around that doesn’t make at least twice as much per hour than the top earner of the ‘back of the house’ staff. In 2018, the Labor and Housing committee held a public hearing in Augusta regarding the reinstatement of the tip credit. The committee sat through more than 12 hours of testimony from mostly servers claiming the like the way the way the system works and do not support the elimination of the tip credit. If we are forced to pay our waitstaff the full minimum wage, it leaves us less labor dollars to pay back of house staff,” DiMillo added.

The DSA’s second ballot initiative is aimed at reforming the city’s rent stabilization ordinance. It would require landlords to give tenants 90-days of notice before a lease termination or increase in rent. It would also limit the five percent rent increase to voluntary turnovers in an attempt to discourage no-cause evictions.

Further, the initiative would seek to reduce rental costs for tenants by “restricting deposits to one-month rent, prohibiting application fees, and further limiting the amount of standard annual rent increases that landlords are allowed to impose to 70% [of the consumer price index].”

It would also impose a $25,000 fee on condominium conversions, “strengthen protections for tenants who exercise their rights under the ordinance,” and provide “greater clarity and authority to the rent board to ensure landlords receive a fair return on investment and that tenant complaints receive a fair hearing.”

The initiative would also make technical changes and corrections to “allow the ordinance to better effectuate its originally intended purpose.”

President of the Southern Maine Landlord Association, Brit Vitalius, spoke critically of the DSA’s proposal.

“Portland is being held hostage by its own referendum process. Housing challenges are serious and complex. The city deserves real solutions crafted by a diverse group of experts rather than by Ethan Stimling and his small band of socialist followers,” said Vitalius. “The DSA’s ‘solutions’ have already brought us rent control, which caused the most widespread rent increase in the City, and a ‘Green New Deal’ housing bill that drives development out of the city and incentivizes urban sprawl. Portland is waking up to their divisive tactics and bad policies.”

The DSA’s third initiative would reduce the number of short-term rentals in the city to only those that are occupied by either an owner or a tenant or are located in two-unit buildings occupied by the owner. It would also increase the city’s annual fee for owner-occupied short-term rentals to $250 and non-owner occupied short-term rentals to $750. Additionally, it would simplify the fee structure.

The initiative would require the city clerk to notify all residents within 500 feet of a registered short-term rental. The initiative also increases penalties for violations, strengthens enforcement of violations, requires complaints against short-term rentals to be logged, and allows the city to revoke registrations of short-term rentals.

The DSA’s fourth initiative would limit the number of passengers who can disembark from a cruise ship to no more than 1,000 people on a given day. If passed, this would go into effect in 2025.

“With these four initiatives, we are pushing forward on the issues that impact the vast majority of those who work and reside in Portland: workers’ rights, affordable, stable and accessible housing, quality of life, and climate change. It has become increasingly difficult for working class folks to live in Portland, and many of our friends, neighbors and newest arrivals have been pushed out as City Hall caters to bosses and landlords, leaving the rest of us to either fend for ourselves or leave. Instead, we’ve chosen to organize,” said the DSA. 

According to the DSA, the four initiatives were created by the organization’s Portland Campaign Committee during their annual convention in January.

“Over the past few months, we’ve worked alongside dozens of stakeholders, policy-experts and affected communities to craft a campaign plan that fits our values. Earlier this month, Chapter membership amended and approved this plan, and, with the help of attorneys, we’ve honed it into the final language we are filing today,” the DSA wrote. “We hope each of these initiatives can serve as a rallying point for everyone in Portland that wants to make our city resilient, textured, and accessible.”

The organization will need to gather 1,500 signatures for the referenda to appear on November’s ballot. They intend to do so over the coming few weeks.