Maine House rejects Republican attempt to cut the minimum wage

Governor Paul LePage’s attempt to roll back the minimum wage hike that Mainers voted to pass in 2016 was rejected with a vote of 81-69 in the House of Representatives on Thursday.

Every Republican except Rep. Karen Vachon of Scarborough voted to cut the minimum wage in future years. Every House Democrat voted against LD 1757, which would have prevented the wage from increasing to $11 next year, reduced the annual rate of increase from $1 to 50 cents, reduce future cost-of-living adjustments, and established a sub-minimum training wage for workers under the age of 18. Independent Martin Grohman voted with the Republicans.

The training wage provision was of particular concern to the many young people whose families are dependent on their income. During debate on Thursday, Rep. Karen Gerrish (R-Lebanon) defended the lower wage by characterizing young workers as lazy and undeserving.

“Young people today simply do not have the work ethic or commitment to be worth this wage,” said Gerrish.

The bill was submitted by Gov. LePage and sponsored by Rep. Joel Stetkis of Canaan, despite the fact that 420,000 Mainers voted to raise the wage in November 2016.

“Efforts to undermine the minimum wage increase will continue to fail because Mainers recognize that people deserve a wage they can live on, and while the cost of living has gone up year after year, for a lot of Maine people, paychecks have not,” said Rep. Ryan Fecteau (D-Biddeford), co-chair of the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee.

Amy Halsted, who served as campaign manager for Mainers for Fair Wages, said the House vote “reinforces how out of touch Republicans are with Mainers who overwhelmingly voted to pass this initiative and who, studies have shown, are benefitting from the raises–as is the Maine economy as a whole.”

An analysis by the Maine Center for Economic Policy of data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the minimum wage increase coincided with overall wage and job growth, with total wages in Maine growing by $587 million in the first half of 2017, a nearly 5 percent increase from the same period in 2016.

Speaking to the economic ripple effect of the higher wage, Fecteau pointed out that “59,000 hard-working Mainers got an overdue raise just last month that went directly into their pockets and the cash registers of our local businesses, strengthening Maine’s economy and our communities.”

Added House Speaker Sara Gideon, “The fact is that no one who works full-time should be living in poverty. Across the state, owners of small and large businesses are recognizing that fair wages and higher profits go hand in hand and that this referendum has been good for their bottom line.”

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