The two most blatant lies told to derail Maine’s minimum wage referendum

A coalition of corporate lobbyists have made a series of strange claims and apocalyptic predictions in an attempt to throw a wrench in the works of the citizen initiative headed for the ballot in November to raise Maine’s minimum wage. Their stated aim is to convince the legislature to place a competing measure on the ballot for two dollars less than the initiative’s target of $12 by 2020. Their real goal is likely to split the vote causing both measures to fail.

Two blatant lies from these corporate lobbyists stand above the rest.

The first is the claim that they actually support and have always supported a minimum wage increase. “The fact is the proposal from the business community is sincere,”  two business lobbyists claimed in a recent op-ed.

They tell this lie in an attempt to head off accusations that they’re simply seeking to sabotage the referendum, but they would have been better served if they had claimed they had a sudden revelation and a change of heart. That’s because they all went on the record just a few months ago in testimony before the Labor Committee opposing any minimum wage increase, including just a one-time, 50-cent boost.

The author of the bill the lobbyists claim to have supported, Rep. Dillon Bates, has accused them of hypocrisy, explaining that it was actually these groups that killed his legislation. He called out the competing measure as “a cynical attempt to prevent any raise for minimum wage workers.”

The second lie is even more blatant and easily disproved.

Over and over again, lobbyists supporting a competing measure have cited research from the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment (IRLE) at the University of California to claim that their increase to $10 is more economically feasible, claiming that it’s only just over a threshold of 60% of the median wage where studies have found no negative economic effects.

You can watch them cite this research multiple times at their press conference launching the competing measure where they called it “the magic number.” You can see it cited as the answer to the question “Why did the coalition choose $10 as the proposed minimum wage for Maine?” in their press release. They emailed it to their members and to legislators and you can even find it cited twice in the latest newsletter from the State Chamber of Commerce, on the front page alone.

The problem is, they got the math completely wrong. As the author of the research, Prof. Michael Reich wrote in a blistering (for an academic) cease-and-desist letter to the business groups, they used the wrong figure for the median wage and their “arguments for a $10 per hour minimum wage by 2020 thus more appropriately apply to a $12 per hour minimum wage.”

Rather than acknowledging their mistake and making the public corrections Prof. Reich requested, Maine State Chamber lobbyist Peter Gore made the ludicrous claim that Reich didn’t know his own research and that the lobbyists number was the right one.

The fact that they won’t reconsider their position, or even correct a clear mathematical error, despite the only expert they have cited to justify their claims informing them they’re wrong, tells us all we need to know about the seriousness of their arguments.

The Maine legislature will soon take up the minimum wage referendum, and we’ll see how well these corporate lobbyists’ lies have worked.

Photo: Curtis Picard of the Retail Association of Maine cites research from IRLE to justify a minimum wage competing measure.

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