Bill to raise Maine minimum wage gets final House approval

AUGUSTA – Acting without debate Tuesday, the Maine House gave final passage to a bill to raise Maine’s $7.50 hourly minimum wage in stages to $9, and sent it to the Senate for a final vote.

While the LePage administration spoke against the bill at a hearing last month, it’s unclear what action Republican Gov. Paul LePage would take if the Senate passes the bill and sends it to him, spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said.

"We’re waiting until it gets to the governor’s desk," Bennett said. The Senate is expected to take a final vote on the bill Wednesday.

The bill seeks to raise the minimum to $9 per hour in three increments ending July 1, 2016. The minimum after that would be adjusted annually for inflation.

Supporters say the minimum wage has remained at $7.50 since 2009 and has not kept up with rising prices. But a representative of the state Labor Department testified against it during a March 14 hearing, saying Maine’s minimum is higher than the national minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

In her testimony on the original bill before it was amended in committee, the department’s Director of Legislative Affairs Susan Wasserott said that annually adjusting the wage for inflation "will detrimentally affect enforcement and compliance" with the minimum wage law. "Inspectors will have new enforcement requirements every year," and the change will be confusing to employers, she said.

Business groups, including the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and restaurant and innkeepers’ groups, opposed the bill, while the Maine AFL-CIO, advocates for women and low-income Mainers, and the Maine Education Association teachers’ union joined supporters.

"We know that Maine can end homelessness, and establishing a minimum wage that approaches a livable wage is a significant foothold in this effort," Danna Hayes of the Preble Street Maine Hunger Initiative testified.

Supporters note that Vermont adopted an indexed minimum wage in 2007 and has seen unemployment under 5 percent. Vermont’s minimum wage, $8.60 an hour, is the highest in the region, and is indexed to inflation. New Hampshire’s minimum is $7.25 an hour, according to the federal Labor Department.