It’s been hard watching the partisan antics at the state house; sometimes it’s even been painful to watch as our state legislature sinks into dysfunction. The lack of compromise in Augusta has become the norm. National trends have crept into Maine, making politics into a gladiator sport instead of a way to work out differing views. And increasingly the inability of legislators and the Governor to find common ground on hard issues has left us with municipalities trying to deal with statewide issues, and frustrated voters turning to ballot questions for answers that the legislative process no longer provides.
Right now there are six ballot questions making their way onto the November 2016 statewide election slate. Education funding. Rank choice voting. Gun sales restrictions. More marijuana legalization. More casino proposals. And a minimum wage increase for Maine. Now if you ask me, I’d say those are all issues that deserve careful consideration – and answers – from our lawmakers in the state house. And they’ve had the chance to address all these issues, either this year, or in the recent past.
But too often state house gridlock has left the decision to someone else, and the minimum wage is the prime example.
It’s been 7 years since Maine lawmakers increased the minimum wage. It’s been so long that the Portland and Bangor City Councils have finally acted on their own to raise the minimum wage in both cities, despite the obvious economic and administrative problems that causes. And now, in the face of continued inaction at the state house, we’re about to see a ballot question this November to increase the minimum wage statewide to $9 an hour in 2017, and then $1/hour more per year until we get to $12 per hour in 2020. The ballot question also phases out the tipped wage credit and sets minimum wage increases after 2020 on auto-pilot, linked to increases in the Consumer Price Index.
Our friends in the hospitality industry are deeply worried about losing the tipped wage credit, the basis of many restaurants’ business models. Our friends at the State Chamber are very concerned about putting the minimum wage on auto pilot after 2020, no doubt recalling the inflation of the early 1980’s. And small businesses of all kinds, especially in rural Maine, are wondering where they will find the extra customers they need to make more money so they can pay higher wages as small town Maine continues to suffer economically, even in this full employment economy we are enjoying.
Maybe if you gave your legislators a call they’d surprise us all – click here to learn more and find out how to join the discussion before the opportunity to be heard passes, and all that’s left is a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote on a flawed question in November.