The minimum-wage referendum on the November ballot has me thinking about my favorite children’s story, “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.”

How could these possibly be related? Let me explain.

On Nov. 8, Mainers will be asked to vote up or down on making a change that would dramatically drive up costs for every restaurant in Maine and increase our minimum wage so far and so fast that we would have the highest in America.

Although well-intentioned, this signature-initiated referendum pushed by the far-left Maine People’s Alliance would end up hurting thousands of Maine’s small businesses and the very workers it is intended to help.

Let’s be clear: Maine’s minimum wage needs to go up.

It has been at $7.50 since 2009, and we all know what has happened to the cost of living. We have an obligation to recognize and respond to that by modestly increasing our minimum wage.

However, raising the minimum wage by 60 percent to $12 an hour will result in one of two things, both of them bad.

Businesses could decide to lay off or hire fewer workers – hurting the very workers we are trying to help. Or businesses could keep all their workers and simply increase prices to make up the difference. Either way, this is bad news for those consumers already struggling as we come out of the recession.

Perhaps most disturbing is the ill-conceived section of the referendum that would forever change how wait staff in our restaurants are paid.

At present, employers must pay wait staff half of the minimum wage and then ensure that the wait staff makes up at least the balance in tips. The good news is that many wait staff make $20, $30 or even more per hour in tips.

This proposal would change all that and require restaurant employers to pay wait staff the entire minimum wage. Since restaurant profit margins are lucky to reach 5 percent, the inevitable result would be higher menu prices and, potentially, the elimination of tipping.

Every restaurant owner I know is against this because it will decrease their already-tenuous profit margins.

Every waiter and waitress I know is against this because it will drive down their income.

We all want a “win-win,” but this one is a “lose-lose.”

So, as things stand, Mainers will have the difficult choice at the ballot box. Vote for a proposal that raises the minimum wage far too high and too fast while at the same time fundamentally damaging our restaurant industry, or vote “no” and leave our minimum wage below what it should be, at $7.50 per hour.

The good news is there could be another choice.

Following the lead taken by the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, the Maine Restaurant Association, the Maine Innkeepers Association and the Retail Association of Maine, a number of us in both parties are working on a competing measure to also go on the November ballot.

This alternative would eliminate the proposed ill-conceived changes to the wait staff “tip credit” by leaving things the way they are.

Second, the proposal would increase Maine’s minimum wage in stages up to $10 per hour by 2020. Doing this recognizes that the cost of living has gone up, but phases in increases in a way that our small-business community will be able to handle and afford.

Through this proposal, we are much more likely to see more money in workers’ pockets without the job losses that the more radical plan would certainly deliver.

Those of us championing this competing measure are pleased to see that it is gaining support among Republicans and Democrats alike.

So, back to “Goldilocks.”

If we are successful in getting a majority of the House and Senate to agree, this competing measure would give Mainers three pots of porridge to choose from on the ballot:

• A. The original Maine People’s Alliance proposal. This one is far too hot.

• B. Doing nothing. This one is far too cold.

• C. The competing measure – a more moderate and prudent course. Many of us think this is “just about right.”

Of course, the decision will ultimately be up to Maine voters, as it should be. We all want the same thing: good-paying jobs, and lots of them.

I join with many others who feel that inclusion of the competing measure is the best way to achieve those goals.

I hope a majority of my colleagues will agree and vote to place the competing measure on the November ballot.

Roger Katz is a Republican state senator from Augusta.

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