BRUNSWICK — Gov. Paul LePage said Wednesday that he has not decided whether to veto a bill that the Legislature has passed to increase Maine’s minimum wage gradually from $7.50 to $9 per hour.

After speaking at a meeting of the Southern Midcoast Maine Chamber in Brunswick, he said he will review the issue when the bill gets to his desk.

“You can’t have the highest minimum wage in the country when your economy is in the tank,” LePage said.

Washington state now has the highest minimum wage, $9.19 per hour.

The bill, which would raise Maine’s minimum wage in stages from the current from $7.50 until it is $9 per hour in 2016, won final approval in the House on Tuesday.

The bill calls for annual adjustments for inflation after 2016. Lawmakers are still working out the cost of the bill before it goes to LePage.

The LePage administration has spoken against the bill previously, but LePage hasn’t said what he will do if lawmakers pass the bill and send it to him for his signature.

Maine’s minimum wage has been $7.50 per hour since 2009. The federal minimum is $7.25 per hour.

Maine’s bill echoes a call by President Barack Obama to increase the federal minimum wage to $9 per hour.

Democrats have said that the federal minimum wage hasn’t kept pace with the rising cost of living necessities. Higher wages would boost the buying power of low-income workers and help fuel the economy, they say. Republicans nationally have said a higher minimum wage would hurt small businesses and be ineffective at reducing poverty.

Speaking to members of the chamber Wednesday, LePage focused on key initiatives such as improving education, cutting energy prices and repaying the money that Maine owes to its hospitals for Medicaid reimbursements.

“Pay your bills, lower energy costs and prepare your workers for a new generation of jobs,” LePage said, outlining his priorities.

He said the state spends about $15,000 per student per year on education, more than other states where students do better academically.

“We get very poor performance,” LePage said. “Maine students are performing the same as they were 20 years ago. The rest of the country is adopting ‘best practices.'”

LePage said the state plans to grade every school in Maine, using a scale of A through F. Those grades will be released by the end of this school year, said Adrienne Bennett, LePage’s spokeswoman.

The Southern Midcoast Maine Chamber refused to allow the media to photograph or videotape LePage during his remarks. The chamber took its own video.

After speaking at the luncheon, LePage left for the Job Creators Alliance’s Free Enterprise Leadership Summit in Florida.


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