AUGUSTA, Maine – Maine Democrats have lined up to support a Republican's bill to tweak the voter-approved minimum wage hike, while the parties are at odds over a measure to eliminate a new tax on the state's highest earners.
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Supporters are cheering a legislative committee's 11-2 vote Wednesday to recommend the minimum wage bill, which would once again allow employees to pay less than minimum wage to workers who make up the difference in tips.
Democratic Rep. Ryan Fecteau, House chairman of the Legislature's labor, commerce, research and economic development committee, said the "compromise" bill protects the "hard fought" wage increase and that his amendment would create new worker safeguards. He said the committee heard testimony from "hundreds of servers" worried about the impact of requiring restaurants to pay tipped workers minimum wage.
Republican Rep. Stacey Guerin called the bill a "big win for Maine's restaurant industry."
Democratic Sen. Shenna Bellows voted against all nine bills recommending changes to the minimum wage law, saying her votes reflect the people's will that those who work full time "shouldn't be living in poverty."
Voters in November approved an increase in Maine's minimum wage from $7.50 per hour to $12 an hour by 2020. The wage would then increase according to inflation. Tipped employees' wages would reach the minimum wage by 2024.
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Amy Halsted of Maine People's Alliance, which led the minimum wage hike campaign, said the referendum won with more votes than any citizen initiative in Maine history.
"The Republican-led attempts to undermine every aspect of this law are deeply disappointing, as is the fact that some Democrats joined in voting to cut wages for tipped workers," she said.
Gov. Paul LePage has repeatedly said the public didn't understand the impact of the ballot questions they approved and has claimed the new laws are already hurting Maine businesses and workers.
About 55.5 percent of Maine voters approved the minimum wage hike, while voters narrowly passed a 3 percent surtax on portions of individual income above $200,000.
The Legislature's taxation committee on Wednesday voted along party lines on a Republican's bill to eliminate the 3 percent surtax, which would be used to directly fund public school classrooms.
Democratic Rep. Gay Grant said the bill thwarts the will of the people, while Republican Rep. Joel Stetkis has testified that the surtax makes Maine less inviting for medical professionals and business people.