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Republicans reject measure to raise minimum wage

House Democrats fight to raise pay for working Mainers

May 24, 2011

AUGUSTA – House Democrats today fought to pass a measure to raise the minimum wage by 50 cents in two steps for working Maine people. House Republicans rejected the increase in a party line vote of 77-69.

Minimum wage in Maine is $7.50 per hour. Minimum wage earners make about $15,600 a year. The bill would have raised the wage by 25 cents in October, and another 25 cents in October 2012.

“Twenty five cents an hour is a small increase that will make a big difference for the working poor in our state,” said Rep. John Tuttle of Sanford, who serves as the ranking Democrat on the Labor Committee. “What’s pocket change for some can make the difference between keeping the lights on or putting food on the table.”

Thirty four percent of Maine workers earn minimum wage, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics and U.S. Census Bureau Figures.

“Wages must keep pace with the increase cost of living,” said Rep. Rob Hunt of Buxton, who serves on the Labor Committee. “Minimum wage barely makes the grade with the rising price of commodities -- these working families are being squeezed.”

Rep Webster added, “With gas costing 44 cents a mile, how can we expect people to get to the jobs if they can’t afford the gas to get there?”

Republicans argued that workers were not barred from asking employers for a raise and suggested that the modest increase would be damaging for low-wage payers.

Democrats rejected the argument that a 25 cent increase would hurt local businesses.

“When working people have more money in their pockets, they spend it at local grocery stores, hardware stores, restaurants and shops,” said Rep. Ed Mazurek of Rockland. “Failing to increase the minimum wage is shortsighted.”

Seventy percent of the country’s gross domestic product is comprised of consumer spending. The modest increase in the federal minimum wage in July 2009 generated $5.5 billion in consumer spending across the economy, according to the national Economic Policy Institute.

The institute also found that states that raised their minimum wages above the federal level had stronger employment and small business trends than states that didn’t.

"It is unfortunate that this bill always becomes a partisan fight because it is not a lot of money and people really need it now,” said Rep. George Hogan of Old Orchard Beach. “It’s the right time for a reasonable increase.”

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, trends from the last year show that the top three occupations experiencing job growth in the aftermath of the recession were retail sales persons, cashiers, and food preparation workers – all low wage occupations.

The proposal to raise the minimum wage for working Mainers received support from broad groups, including small businesses, workers, and the Catholic Diocese during the public hearing before the Labor, Commerce, Research, and Economic Development Committee.

The measure will be taken up by the Maine Senate in the coming weeks.

Contact:

Jodi Quintero 287-1488, c. 841-6279