Corporate lobbyists push 11th-hour minimum wage competing measure

Corporate lobbyists push 11th-hour minimum wage competing measure

At a hastily-called press conference in the last hours of the legislative session, lobbyists representing business groups launched the fourth in a series of attempts to place a competing measure on the ballot to delay or derail the referendum to raise Maine’s minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020.

The Bangor Daily News has labeled it “a last-minute gambit” to which “Democrats aren’t likely to accede.”

The new proposal is different from the lobbyists’ past bills in that it would reach it’s top minimum wage rate of $10 an hour a year earlier. They are now also claiming that it could go into effect as emergency legislation without becoming a competing measure.

The latter contention is likely untrue. Any legislation addressing the same policy area as the citizen-initiated referendum would have to meet a very high legal bar in order to not be also placed on the ballot as a competing question. It is unlikely that the Secretary of State and Maine courts would accept the lobbyists’ desire to undermine a citizen initiative as a legitimate emergency. At the very least, passing such a measure would tie the referendum campaign up in the courts for months.

In 1996, Governor Angus King attempted a similar maneuver, seeking to pass forestry practices legislation just before a citizen-initiated referendum on the issue was about to come up for a vote. In that case, according to a contemporary report in the Portland Press Herald, “the Supreme Court placed so many restrictions on King’s favored option that it would be difficult to do.” This forced King and his legislative allies to create a competing measure instead.

The same lobbyists leading this latest competing measure, who claim they now support a $10 an hour minimum wage, testified against a bill increasing the minimum wage to $8 when it came before the legislature last year.

“This is the fourth attempt by corporate lobbyists to place a competing measure on the ballot. We anticipate this last-ditch, 11th-hour ploy will be voted down, just like the others,” said Mainers for Fair Wages campaign manager Amy Halsted. “More than 90,000 Maine people signed petitions to place the initiative raising the minimum wage from $7.50 to $12 by 2020 on the ballot and they deserve a clean vote. Higher wages are essential for Maine families, communities and our economy. We’ve all waited long enough. It’s time for the people of Maine to have their say on a real minimum wage increase.”

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