Proponents of increasing Maine's minimum wage prepare for tough fight in Legislature

Economic Indicators Associated Press

Efforts to raise Maine's minimum wage were met with resistance Monday from Republican Gov. Paul LePage's administration, GOP lawmakers and business groups who say the proposals could do more harm than good.

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Lawmakers on the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee are considering seven bills to raise the $7.50 per hour minimum wage to varying levels. It hasn't been increased since 2009.

But the measures face a steep climb in the Legislature, where Republicans now hold control of the Senate. And even a modest increase is unlikely to gain support from LePage, who vetoed a minimum wage hike in 2013.

His administration told lawmakers Monday that the proposals would address only the "symptom" of poverty, not any of the causes — like a lack of skills needed to obtain a good paying job.

"Simply raising the minimum wage leaves these people still at the bottom of the skills and earnings ladder without the ability to climb it," said Julie Rabinowitz, a spokeswoman for the state's Department of Labor.

An eighth proposal before the committee introduced by GOP Sen. Tom Saviello would have the Legislature study the issue. The committee didn't act on any of the bills Monday.

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Supporters told lawmakers that putting more money in workers' pockets would spur economic growth.

They also rejected claims made by Republicans that a minimum wage hike would kill jobs. That idea gained traction after a Congressional Budget Office Report last year found that raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour could cost a half-million jobs.

Rep. Dillon Bates, whose bill would raise the wage to $8 an hour in October, said he agrees that Maine shouldn't "shock the system" by implementing a massive hike but believes that something needs to be done to help workers.

"Offering a small measure of financial security to our workers will lighten the burden on social services, empower Maine businesses and take action on an issue for which action has been long overdue," the Democrat from Westbrook said.

Karen Cairnduff, a mother from Portland who traveled to Augusta to support a proposal to raise the wage to $12 per hour, said she spent little time with her two sons while trying to raise them on a minimum wage job at McDonald's because she was forced to take on more work to get by.

But Rabinowitz said the administration believes that Maine's wages will increase naturally because of the demographic challenges the state faces. As the population ages, demand for the shrinking pool of workers will drive up wages without "the intervention of a state-mandated minimum wage," she said.

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