PORTLAND — Advocates for a higher minimum wage in Maine are starting a drive to collect signatures to get a wage increase on the 2016 ballot.

Mainers for Fair Wages started their Portland-area signature collection on Thursday. The liberal Maine People’s Alliance and the Maine AFL-CIO submitted paperwork about the drive to the state in April.

The group wants to raise the minimum wage from $7.50 an hour to $9 an hour in 2017. It would then be raised by a dollar a year until it hits $12 in 2020. After that it would be adjusted to cost of living. The advocates are using the referendum drive to bypass Governor Paul LePage and other opponents.

The advocates need to collect more than 60,000 signatures to get the item on the 2016 ballot.