Gov. Paul LePage is pushing for a bill that would prohibit municipalities, such as Portland and Bangor, from enacting their own minimum wages that are higher than the state minimum of $7.50 an hour.

The bill, L.D. 1361 – An Act to Promote Minimum Wage Consistency – comes less than a week after a Portland City Council subcommittee endorsed Mayor Michael Brennan’s effort to become the first municipality in the state to enact a citywide minimum wage and after the progressive Maine People’s Alliance announced efforts for a statewide referendum in 2016 to raise the state minimum to $12 an hour by 2020.

LePage’s two-sentence, 40-word bill simply reads: “The State intends to occupy and preempt the entire field of legislation concerning the regulation of the minimum wage. Any existing or future order, ordinance, rule or regulation of any political subdivision of the state is void.”

The bill, sponsored by Assistant Senate Majority Leader Andre Cushing, R-Hampden, will likely be referred by the Senate on Tuesday to the Committee on Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development.

Cushing did not respond to a phone call and email seeking comment Monday.

Increasing the minimum wage has emerged as a key political issue for Democrats at the federal, state and local levels over the last year or so.


President Obama signed an executive order last year that would pay federal employees and contractors a minimum wage of $10.10 an hour. He called on Congress to follow suit for all workers, raising the federal minimum from $7.25 an hour.

Raising the minimum wage in Maine polled well during the 2014 gubernatorial race. Former Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud made raising the minimum wage a cornerstone of his unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign.

Maine’s minimum wage is 25 cents an hour higher than the federal minimum wage. Both were last increased in 2009.

During the 2014 gubernatorial race, LePage said he opposed both an increase in the state minimum wage and Portland’s effort to establish its own minimum wage.

“I am so tired of hearing minimum wage,” LePage said at an Oct. 8 debate hosted by the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce. “How about optimum wage? How about living wages? … That’s the jobs I’m going after. Minimum wage – I’ll leave that up to my opponents.”

He also claimed that Portland’s effort to create its own minimum wage was unconstitutional.


“Portland should read the Maine Constitution. They can’t do what they’re thinking they’re going to do. I’ve already checked it,” LePage said.

The city of Portland’s top attorney, Danielle West-Chuhta, said in a Nov. 20 memo to the council’s Finance Committee that the Maine Constitution limits a city or town’s authority to matters that are “local and municipal in character.” However, she noted that the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, acting as the Law Court, has recognized the Legislature’s efforts to expand municipal authority beyond that limited scope to matters that are not “expressly denied.”

“Here, the Legislature has not expressly denied the city’s ability to enact a local minimum wage law,” she wrote.

Portland is poised to become the 22nd U.S. city to enact its own minimum wage, according to the National Employment Law Project, a New York City nonprofit tracking the issue.

The council’s Finance Committee on Thursday backed a plan to require employers to pay workers at least $8.75 an hour starting in January, with increases of 50 cents an hour in 2018 and 2020. The panel eliminated automatic increases thereafter.

That’s a more modest proposal than the one originally sought by Brennan, who wanted a minimum wage of $9.50 an hour starting in July. After the wage reached $10.68 an hour in 2017, future increases would have been tied to inflation.


Brennan said Portland should be allowed to establish its own minimum wage, because of its robust economy and the fact that the cost of living is higher here.

“I think we can recognize the economy in the state is not uniform,” Brennan said Monday night. “Having one minimum wage for the whole state I don’t think reflects the differences in the economies of the state. Certainly, a $7.50 minimum wage at this point is not reflective of both the wages that are paid in Portland and the cost of living in Portland.”

Representatives for LePage could not be reached for comment Monday evening.

Brennan said LePage’s bill is evidence that Portland has the constitutional authority to create its own minimum wage, despite the governor’s previous position.

Bangor is also considering adopting its own minimum wage, and the Portland Green Independent Party is in the process of collecting signatures for a November referendum question that would establish a citywide minimum wage of $15 an hour.

Portland Greens said in a news release Monday that LePage’s bill undermines Maine’s system of home rule, whereby towns and cities are given latitude to run their own affairs.


“This is unwanted state intrusion into the affairs of municipalities,” Chairman Tom MacMillan said in a statement. “We are petitioning for a Living Wage, something the state won’t even consider. Working people should not live in poverty, yet Governor LePage is trying to block Portland voters from exercising their democratic rights under the Maine Constitution.”

Bangor City Councilor Joe Baldacci in February proposed a minimum wage increase in that city, but fellow councilors expressed concerns about the proposal.

“The state has done nothing, is doing nothing and they intend to continue to do nothing,” Baldacci said Monday night. “We have a tradition of local control in the state of Maine that is enshrined in our heritage – they’re obviously overturning that. We’re trying to raise people’s wages.”


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